For whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one Point, he is guilty of all.
HAVING in several Discourses endeavoured plainly and particularly to propose the Terms, or Conditions, on which alone Christians, who have been in any sense, or any degree, wilful Sinners, may hope to be acquitted, justified, accepted, and made eternally happy, by Almighty God; it may not be improper now to handle this important Subject after a manner, which, tho' something different, may yet be of farther use to us in our serious Enquiry after the Way to Happiness, and Eternal Life. In order to this, I could think of no Passage of Scripture, more comprehensive; or more proper, than this taken out of St. James, in which He declares that whosoever shall keep the whole Law, and yet offend in one Point; he is guilty of all: and I design, therefore,
I. To explain to you, as well as I can, the true Meaning of the Words.
II. To propose to you the Doctrine plainly taught in them: and to prove the Justice and Reasonableness of it.
III. To answer some Questions, and Doubts, which may arise upon this Subject. And
IV. To draw such Observations, and Inferences, from the whole, as may be of great use in order to our successful Endeavours after Eternal Life.
I. IT is very proper to explain to you, as well as I can, the true Meaning of this Passage: which, as to the manner of Expression, is not without some Difficulty. And,
1. THE Meaning of it cannot be this, that whosoever transgresseth in one single Instance, is as bad a Man; as great a Sinner; as guilty an Offender; as he that transgresseth in every Instance possible: that he who covets his Neighbour's Goods, for Example, is as bad a Man, and as great a Sinner, as he who not only covets his Neighbour's Goods, but also commits Adultery, Murder, and Theft; profanes the Name of God; dishonours his Father and Mother; and breaks every Law that he can possibly, in Contempt of God, and his Authority. This cannot be the meaning of the Passage: because it is absurd, at first hearing, thus to take away all Distinction between the degrees of Sin, and Sinners; and to make all Transgressors, tho' differing in the Instances, and Number, of their several Transgressions, equal in their Crimes, and in their Guilt. Nor consequently,
2. CAN it be understood to imply in it, that God will punish all such Persons equally; that the Man who offends only in one Instance, shall be made equal, in the degree of Punishment, to him who hath offended in that, and in many more: because the Punishment of Offenders is without doubt to be proportioned to their several Offences; and because he who offends in many Cases, is guilty of a more repeated and settled Contempt of the Authority of the Law-giver, than the other, and therefore must reasonably expect a greater degree of Punishment. But,
3. HE who offends against the known Law of God, in any one Instance, may, on other Accounts, tho' not on these above-mentioned, he said to be guilty with respect to all his Laws.
IN the first place, as he sins manifestly against that Divine Authority which enacted that part of the Law which he transgresseth, as well as those others which he thinks fit to observe. For Sin, tho' committed but in one Instance, is a sort of a Denial of that Authority by which it is forbidden: and this, tho' applied by the Sinner himself to one Instance only, yet affects all others; because Almighty God hath the same Authority to command, or forbid one thing, that he hath to command or forbid another. Now if we, by our Practice, deny, in effect, his Right to govern us in one Instance; we do, in effect deny it in all; because He hath as much Right to do it in this, as in others; and no more in others than in this. In this respect therefore; whosoever offends wilfully in one Point; may be said to be guilty of all; that his wilful offending in this Point, is a Rebellion against the Authority of God: which toucheth all his other Laws, as well as this one which he transgresseth: And thus St. James himself seems to explain his own Meaning in the Verse immediately following the Text, For He that said, Do not commit Adultery, said also, Do not kill. If therefore thou commit no Adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a Transgressor of the Law. As if he had expressed himself thus. The meaning of my charging a Man who sins in one Instance, with being guilty of all, is this, that the same God who forbids the other Sins; forbids this one also. Therefore, if thou dost abstain from the other Sins, and yet wilfully sinnest in this one point; Thou art a Sinner with respect to the other Points as well as this: because God claims no greater Authority in those other Points than He doth in this: and Thou, by wilfully offending in this one Point, callest in question his whole Authority, and the Validity of his whole Law, which hath no more to uphold it in other Instances, than what it hath in this which thou neglectest. And this certainly must aggravate and increase the Guilt of one, who wilfully sins in any one Instance only, that it reflects highly upon the whole Law; and that, by calling in question, or refusing to obey, the Authority of God in this one Point, the Sinner effectually calls in question his whole Authority, which is just the same with respect to others. In this Sense therefore, it may be true, that a Man's Guilt will not be proportionable to the intrinsic Evil of the single Sin which He indulges himself in; but aggravated by considering this Sin, as forbidden by the Authority of God; and as having a very bad Influence upon that Authority in other respects; tending as much to weaken and destroy it in other Instances, as it Both in effect call it in question, and contemn it in this.
AGAIN, the Guilt of a Man who offends wilfully in one Point of God's Law, must likewise be supposed to extend, in some degree, to all the rest, because it is certain that the same Disposition of Mind which engageth, or permits him to transgress one Law, when Inclination or Interest, Pleasure or Profit, invite him, would likewise prevail with him to transgress any of the others likewise, supposing him under the Influence of the same Inclination or Interests, Pleasure or Profit. For the Occasion of his wilful Commission of one Sin, is that He hath some Temptation to it, which He has shewn to be too hard for his Faith, and his Sense Of God's Authority, to conquer. If therefore, he had the same Temptation to another Vice; if it were accompanied with the same Circumstances, equally grateful to his Sensuality, or Covetuousness, or Ambition; is it not plain that He would equally permit himself to be carried away with the Temptation to it? So that his Innocence in other Respects is not owing to his Virtue, or Faith, or Sense of God's Authority but to Necessity; to his want of the same Inclination, and the same Temptation to these, which He hath, with respect to that which He wilfully commits. For if he had that Faith, or Sense of God's Authority, which is sufficient to set him above the same degree of Temptation to other Vices; this would as certainly set him above the Power of the Temptation He hath to this one. And consequently, He must be guilty, in some degree, with respect to all: because He is so disposed, as that his Religion, were it to undergo an equal Tryal in Other Respects, would most certainly yield to it in them, as it doth in this Instance, in which it pleaseth God in a particular manner to try his Faith, and Sense of his Authority. I do not say that Almighty God will actually punish such Man as much in degree, as if He had been tried in all other Instances, and wilfully sinned in all: but I know not whether in strict Justice He might not. And this I say, that a Man's Guilt must be in Proportion to his inward Disposition; which, it is manifest (all Circumstances of Inclination and Temptation being supposed equal) would produce the same Behaviour and Practice in all Cases, which it doth in one. Whosoever therefore offends in one Point only, is guilty of all, in this Sense; because He would as certainly yield in all, as He doth in this, were He to undergo a Tryal, equal in every respect, in all other Cases,
AGAIN, the same may be proved, and explained, by the Case of such as wilfully transgress any Humane Law. Would not any Master think his Authority, with respect to all his Commands, called in question, by a Servant, who should chuse which He would obey, and which He would not, merely by his own Humour, or Inclination, or Profit; and wilfully refuse to obey such a particular just and lawful Command, because He had no mind to it; or could get more present Advantage by disobeying it? And would not that Master think that the same Disposition of Mind in such a Servant would carry him to injure and affront him in all other Instances likewise, could He propose to himself the same Pleasure, or Interest, by so doing? Nay, Would not he speak of him, or, treat him, as a Person to whom he was obliged for no Service performed out of a Sense of his Authority, or any farther than his own present Interest directed him? The same may be said of any Lawful Supreme Powers, and the Subjects under them; who, if they wilfully offend against any one of their just Laws, are in some Sense guilty of all: as they rebel against the Authority which is the same in this Law, as it is in all others; and as they would certainly offend against all others, were they not sensible, they could not do it, with the same Pleasure or Profit, the same Secrecy or Impunity. And who will reckon the material Act of Obedience, in any respect, a Virtue: when it is so certain from other Instances, that it had been Disobedience, had the same inviting Circumstances attended it?
IF therefore, any Persons do allow themselves in any one wilful Sin; they may be certain that their Guilt reaches beyond, this one Sin, as it includes in it a Contempt of that Authority by which other Sins, as well as this, are forbidden; and a Disposition which would end in the Commission of all other Sins, were the same Tryals offered them in all respects. Whosoever therefore keepeth the whole Law besides, and yet offends in one Point, is, in this Sense, guilty of all. For He that said, Do not commit Adultery, said also, Do not steal. Now if thou commit no Adultery, yet if thou steal, thou art become a Transgressor of the Law.
IT seems there were in those Days certain unreasonable Persons, amongst the Christians, who were very ready to obey the Law of God in such Instances as were agreeable to their Inclination or their Interest. But then they desired leave to hope that they might, for the sake of this Obedience, be excused from observing it in some other particular Instance: which to be sure They would chuse out for themselves, according to their own Inclination, and Temper. Thus they would willingly retain a darling Sin; and compound for this, by serving God, and obeying his Law, in other Instances, in which they did not find so much Difficulty. And this, I am persuaded, is the Case of many Christians now a-days, who think, if they observe the Laws of Christ in most Instances, especially if they be not guilty of open, and notorious Sins, they may indulge themselves in one Vice, which they hope will be atoned for by their Observance of the other Evangelical Laws. This Vice they chuse for themselves: not being able to find any Allowance made by God to one, more than to another. But, in opposition to this unchristian Humour, and fatal Mistake, this Affirmation of St. James in the Text, was designed which I have explained to you; and shall now proceed, as I proposed, in the second place,
II. TO lay down the Doctrine plainly taught, or implied, in these Words of St. James: and to prove the Justice, And Reasonableness of it. Now,
1. THE least that can be implied in them is this, that it is not enough for any Man to obey all the other Laws of God, with a silent reserve of so much as one Case, in which he allows himself wilfully to transgress; that the Authority of God equally extends to all his Laws; and that refusal of Obedience in one single Instance is a Rebellion against that Authority that it is an Universal Obedience which God requires, to all his Commands equally, and without Partiality; that Obedience in all Particulars except one shall not atone for the wilful Neglect of that one; but that whosoever doth allow himself in one wilful Sin, under this Pretence, will find himself miserably mistaken, and will be judged and punished at last, as a Contemner of the Authority of God. This is the least, I say, that can be implied in this Declaration of St. James: and is no more than what our Lord himself declared, Matth. vii.21. where He openly warns all his Disciples, that nothing can entitle them to an Entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, but the doing the Will of his Father which is in Heaven. But whosoever wilfully transgresseth in any one Point, certainly cannot be said to do the Will of God, in that Instance, tho' He doth it in all others. Besides, his Will is his whole Will, taken all together: and this being a part of it; whoever transgresseth this part of it, doth not do the Will, or the whole Will, of God. That Man therefore, cannot, upon the Gospel Terms, hope for an Admittance into Heaven, who allows himself in the habitual Commission of any one known Sin; or in any one wilful Transgression of the Will of God. Our Lord himself hath in those Words put our Title to Heaven upon our sincere Regard to the Whole Will of God in all its parts: as his Apostle in the Text, hath utterly precluded all who pretend to observe some parts of God's Law, whilst they wilfully continue in the Neglect of others, from any Hopes of God's Favour.
2. THE Justice and Reasonableness of God's requiring this Universal Obedience without any Exception to any one Law, or any one part of his Will more than another, is so apparent, that every one can see it in the Case of others, tho' He may be so weak as fondly to hope for an Exemption in his own Case. Put it to the covetous Man, whether the Condemnation threatned against the more expensive Vices be not just and fitting; who more ready to join in it than himself? Put it to the Voluptuary, whether it be not highly reasonable that the Wrath of God should be reveled, and executed, against so vile a Crime as Covetousness; and you need not doubt of his Approbation of it. So will the dishonest Man condemn the Uncleanness of another; and the unclean condemn the dishonest: every one thinking (if they think at all of such Matters) that any particular Transgression of God's Law must in reason be punished by God; so it be not that of which they know themselves to be guilty, and for which they have their own peculiar Temper, Inclination, or Interest to plead. This indeed they will inwardly except; out of a Self-Love and an Aversion to Misery: but yet even this they do, only with some faint Hope; not with any fixed Judgment, that it will not be highly fitting even for this particular Sin to receive its just Reward. But suppose this were their fixed Judgment in their own Case; we know their Judgment is bias'd when themselves are concerned; and much more free when it is the Case of others about which they are to judge.
LET, therefore, but the Judgment of Christians be enquired into, about the Case of others living but in one known Sin, for which themselves have no Fondness, or Inclination; and you will find them all allowing that this continued Course of one particular Sin is a most high Provocation to God; a continued Affront to his Authority; and what justly deserves to be punished at last, when He shall come to judge all Men for their Offences against him.
BUT, farther, if this Universal Obedience were not the Condition of Eternal Happiness; what would Men have to do, but to chuse out the Vice for which they find the greatest Fondness in themselves, and that which will be most agreeable to them; and give themselves all that Loose in this, which can be consistent with the Observation of the other Laws of the Gospel? Nay, where would be the Harm, upon this Supposition, if each Man chose to himself Two or Three Darlings out of the whole Catalogue of Sins, to love, and pursue? If God can be supposed to pass over the continued wilful Violation of his Laws in one Instance, for the sake of Obedience in others; why not in Two Instances, if the same Excuse of Inclination, and Temptation, can be pleaded? Thus every Man may have his Idol, set up in the same Heart in which God places his Temple: and which do you think will have the greatest Share of Adoration, and Service in this Competition? Why, it is plain that God Almighty can have only that Service which the Idol can spare; no more Love, or Obedience, than what is consistent with the Prosecution of this particular Vice now supposed to be connived at by God. And can any one think it tolerable to entertain such an Opinion of Almighty God, as makes his Will to truckle to a beloved Sin; and to accept of so much Service only as that can spare; without being neglected it self? Can any one think it pardonable in himself to think thus of the wise, and holy God, that He can give a Licence after such a manner to any one Vice: much more to think that He can give such Allowance to all Vices?
FOR I must observe farther, that this Supposition would not only be an Allowance to any one particular Vice; but in general to all, and every one. For if Almighty God be supposed to overlook the Covetousness of one Man, for the sake of any other Virtues; He must, by the same Reason, be supposed to connive at the Dishonesty of another; at the Uncleanness of a third; at the Drunkenness of a fourth; and so consequently, at the particular Vice to which any particular Person hath addicted himself. For by the same Right that we chuse our own Vice, which we think to except from his Anger and Condemnation; by the same Right, I say, another chuses another Vice, agreeable to his Temper, Inclination, and Opportunities. And by this means not only our darling Vice is excepted; but the darling Vice of every one in particular: which brings in an Encouragement to universal Debauchery; and to every Instance of Folly, and Wickedness. The Adulterers, Fornicators, Drunkards, Swearers, Extortioners, Covetous, Malicious, Revengeful, Backbiters, Envious, Murtherers; all who are expressly excluded the Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament, may at this rate entertain Hopes of getting into it by this Artifice: if they can but plead an Observance of God's Law in other respects; and a strong Inclination, and Temptation, to that particular Vice, in which they have indulged themselves. As unreasonable then, as it is to suppose Almighty God to leave room for Hopes of Indulgence, or Pardon, to all manner of Vices, so they meet not in one Person; so reasonable is it, to believe that an Universal Obedience, without Partiality, to all his Laws, is the only Obedience to which He hath annexed the Promise of our inheriting Eternal Life.
AGAIN, if this be not the one only Rule for us to go by, in this Affair; we must suppose our selves left to our own Government and Guidance, much more than is really consistent with supposing God to be our Lord and our Legislator. For, according to this Supposition, it doth not depend upon Almighty God, what Laws shall be obligatory to us; but upon our selves, and our own Humour, or Inclination; our Pleasure, or Profit. For we are to pick and chuse out of all the Laws, He hath given us, which is our Pleasure to neglect; and to except out of all the Sins, which He hath in general condemned, that particular Sin which we have a mind to indulge. And tho' God hath declared, it, amongst others, to be a damning Sin; yet at this rate we have it in our Power to reverse this Decree, and to alter the Nature of it: that so, what God hath declared pernicious, and fruitful of Misery, shall become, by our own favour to it, of an harmless and innocent Nature; only an Instance of our Frailty, and a Subject for his future Mercy to exercise it self upon. He, hath told us, that if we be not Doers of his Will we must expect his Wrath, and Eternal Displeasure: and if this be not so, then we are our own Directors, and in great Part out of his Jurisdiction; I mean, if we can frame another Rule for our selves, and oppose it to his. He commands obedience to all his Laws. We claim a Right to except one, He forbids every Vice. We pretend a Privilege to retain one: and promise him we will be as careful as can be in other Instances, if He will overlook this. After this manner, I say, we take our selves from under his Government; and assume a Dominion over ourselves in some Instances, equal to what we pretend to allow to him in others: But nothing can be more absurd than this: and consequently, without universal, impartial Obedience, we can have no Hopes to inherit his Rewards, or escape his Punishments.
BUT, last of all, the Supposition of his accepting of an Observance of some parts of his Will, from Men who continue in known Neglect, and wilful Violation of others, is directly contrary to the Design Christianity; and destructive of the main End of the Gospel. For it was a Regard to universal Holiness; to a more perfect Obedience to the Laws of Righteousness, and a more perfect Freedom from all Sin, that engaged God to send his Son into the World and that influenced our Lord to undertake his great Work. He appeared to put away and destroy, not one, or two, but all the Works of the Devil. His Grace was reveled to teach Men to deny Ungodliness, and worldly Lusts; without Exception, and without any Reserve to what might be the peculiar Favourite of any Man. And it a contradicting this Design; frustrating this End; if he hath left any Hopes of the Mercy which he purchased, to Those who allow themselves in any one of the Works of the Devil or continue in any sort of Ungodliness; or in any one wordly Lust.
BESIDES, the Case of the Generality, or Bulk, of Mankind being manifestly this, that it is one particular darling Sin that enslaves the Man; that he is devoted to this, and for this often neglects other Sins, as well as his Duty: it was without doubt to engage Men to leave the Sin which doth so easily beset them; to disengage them from that Bondage which This kept them in, that the Son of God appeared in the Flesh, and instituted his holy Religion. I know, there are Men who seem, without Distinction, to be under the Government and Influence of a whole Body of Sin: to be as covetous, for Instance, as is consistent with their other Vices; and as vicious in other respects as is consistent with their Covetousness, and worldly Designs. But the Case of Multitudes is, that it is one Vice which generally enslaves them so much, that they can willingly sacrifice other Vices, as well as their Virtue, to it. And now put the Case, that our Lord can be supposed to give any Ground for hope of Favour to such Persons, continuing in this State, upon Condition they do, in other Points, observe his Laws: and what Good could his coming into the World be supposed to do, if He brings along with Him any such Indulgence as gives Encouragement, and Strength to the darling Vice of every Man, who believes in him? Where would be any Endeavours after the Perfection, talked of in the Gospel, and becoming Humane Nature? Where would be the Truth of that Proposition, that Christ came to call Sinners to Repentance, and Amendment? How vain must his professed Design be, and how unworthy of an holy, and wise God; if He be supposed to appear so partially in the Cause of Virtue? How might the Heathen Philosophers themselves have boasted that their own Schemes were more worthy of the Deity? and have drawn an unanswerable Argument against the Divine Authority of an Institution, in which Allowance was given, in effect, to any Sin or Wickedness Men would particularly give themselves up to? But I have said enough upon the present Head.
THE remaining part of what I proposed upon this Subject, I must reserve to another opportunity. But from what hath been said it is evident that, if we would not fix the highest Absurdities upon Almighty God, and our Saviour, and his Gospel; we must be firmly persuaded that it is an universal Obedience to all his Commands equally, which God requires in order to our Happiness: and that the continued Allowance of our selves in any one wilful Sin, is inconsistent with all Hopes of his Mercy, as far as it is revealed and promised in his Gospel.