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hard. The law lays a restraint upon all the senses, and forbids all fleshly lusts : this may be easy to separate souls, but for men to live in the body, as if they were out of it, to be always vigilant against the insinuations or attacks of sin, is impossible. Thus the carnal mind is apt with some color, to traduce the righteousness of God's government. But it will be clearly vindicated, by considering,
1. The law supposes man in a state of integrity, furnished with sufficient power to comply with every precept, though free to fall from his duty and happiness. To command absolute impossibilities is tyrannical, and utterly inconsistent with the nature of the blessed God.
2. The first man wilfully transgressed the law, and lost his holiness: and nature being poisoned in the fountain, is corrupt in all the descendants from him. Mankind was justly degraded in rebellious Adam, and is destitute of spiritual strength to perform all that the law requires.
3. This disability is vicious and culpable, and can be no pretence against the rights of the lawgiver. A natural disability from the want of requisite faculties is a just excuse.
It is no fault that a man cannot stop the sun, as Joshua did; nor calm a tempest, as our Saviour did by his word. But the disability that arises from a depraved disposition, renders a person more guilty: And this is the present case.
The will of man is disobedient and perverse, and as soon as it can exercise election, chooses evil; and by custom in sin becomes more hardened and obstinate. And from hence the prophet charges the contumacious Jews; Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken, Jer. 6. 10. Were they uncapable of hearing the divine commands ? No; but the word of the Lord was to them a reproach, they had no delight in it. And our Saviour upbraids the Pharisees, How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only ? John 5. 44. They were in high reputation for their boliness, which made it impossible for them in a humble penitent manner to submit to our Saviour. In short, the primary end of the law was the happiness of man in the performance of his duty; and his first sin, and consequent impotence to fulfil it, was by his own fault. As the obliquity of a line cannot be ascribed to the straight rule, but to the error of the hand that draws it. And from hence it is clear, that if God should with a terrible exactness require of men unsinning obedience upon the pain of damnation, he could not be taxed with unrighteousness.
[2.] But God has been pleased to mitigate and allay the severity of the law by the gospel ; so that although the least breach of it makes a person an offender and obnoxious to judgment, yet the law of faith propounds such merciful conditions to the guilty, that upon the performance of them, they may plead their pardon
sealed with the blood of their Redeemer, and shall be saved and crowned in the day of judgment. We are commanded so to speak and do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty, James 2. 12. Thus the gospel is styled, in that it frees the conscience, though not from the obedience, yet from the terrors and condemnation of the law; for there was not the least signification of mercy by it. But in the gospel, the grace of God most illustriously appears.
1. In that when our innocence was lost, there may be a renovation of the sinner by repentance, to which the plenary pardon of sin is assured : Wash ye, make ye clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes : cease to do evil, and learn to do well, saith the Lord : and though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white like wool, Isa. 1. 16, 17, 18. God will not pardon those who sorgive and flatter themselves in their sins; but those who confess and forsake them, shall find mercy.
2. Sincerity of obedience is accepted where perfection is wanting. When a person with consent of heart and serious endeavors strives to obey the holy will of God, without the exception of any known duty, or the indulgence of any sin, God will spare him, as a father spares his son that serves him, Mal. 3. 17. It is not so much the matter as the allowance that makes sin deadly. Where there is guile in the heart, it will be severely imputed. It is not according to some particular acts of sin, but the tenor of the life, that the state of man will be decided.
3. Unseigned faith in the Lord Jesus, that is, such a belief of the truth and goodness of his promises, as induces us to receive him as our Prince and Saviour," as purifies the conscience, the heart and life, will free us from hell, and entitle us to beaven, according to the covenant of grace. In short, the final resolution of a man's trial and case will be this; either he has performed the gracious conditions of the gospel, and he shall be saved; or rejected them, and he shall be damned.
If it be objected, that the terms of evangelical justification, though in themselves comparatively easy, yet are of impossible performance to men in their natural sinful state, the answer is clear :
(1.) That although the natural man be dead in sin, without spiritual strength to resolve and perform his duty, and holy heat of desires to it; and nothing is alive in him but his corrupt passions, that are like worms generated in a carcass; yet by the grace that is offered in the gospel, he may be enabled to perform the conditions of it: for in this the gospel excels the law, the law discovers sin, but affords no degrees of supernatural power to subdue it, and directs to no means for the expiation of its guilt. As the fire in the bush discovered the thorns without consuming them. But the sanctifying Spirit the true spring of
life and power, 2 Tim. 1. 7. is the concomitant of the gospel, as St. Peter declares, With the preaching of the gospel, the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven, 1 Pet. 1. 12. And the Spirit by illuminating, preventing and exciting grace assists men to repent and believe ; and is promised in rich and liberal supplies to all that humbly and ardently pray for it. This our Saviour assures to us, by a most tender and endearing comparison : If ye that are evil, know how to give good things to your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those that ask it? Luke 11. 13.
(2.) From hence it follows, that it is from the perverseness of the will, and the love of sin, that men do not obey the gospel. For the Holy Spirit never withdraws his gracious assistance, till resisted, grieved, and quenched by them. It will be no excuse, that divine grace is not conferred in the same eminent degree upon some as upon others that are converted, for the impenitent shall not be condemned for want of that singular powerful grace that was the privilege of the elect, but for receiving in vain that measure of common grace that they had. If he that received one talent had faithfully improved it, he had been rewarded with more; but upon the slothful and ingrateful neglect of his duty, he was justly deprived of it, and cast into a dungeon of horror, the emblem of hell. The sentence of the law has its full force upon impenitent sinners, with intolerable aggravations for neglecting the salvation of the gospel.
Concerning the heathens, the scripture declares,
1. That although the law published by Moses was not communicated to them, yet there was a silent, though less perfect impression of it in their hearts. The law of nature in the fundamental precepts of religion, and society, and temperance, was better known than obeyed by them. Therefore the apostle indicts them for atrocious crimes, Rom. 1. 26, 27. such as natural conscience, consenting with the law of God, severely forbids upon the pain of damnation. Thus it is said of the heathens, Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death; not only commit the same, but have pleasure in them that do them, Rom. 1. 32. And at the last day, As many as have sinned without the law, as delivered to the Jews, shall be judged and perish, not according to the law of Moses, Rom. 2. but the law of nature that obliged them to do good, and restrain themselves from evil; of which the counterpart was not totally deleted in their hearts.
2. Although the revelation of Christ in his person, office and benefits, is not by the preaching of the gospel (that is necessary for the begetting of faith extended to all nations; yet the grace of the redeemer is so far universal, that upon his account the indulgent providence of God invited the heathens to repentance. His renewed benefits that sweetened their lives, Rom. 2.
4. and his powerful patience in forbearing so long to cut them off, when their impurities and impieties were so provoking, was a testimony of his inclination to clemency upon their reformation, Acts 14. 17. And for their abusing his favors, and resisting the methods of his goodness, they will be inexcusable to themselves, and their condemnation righteous to their own conscience.
Eternal Death is wisely and justly ordained to be the punishment of sin. It
is the wisdom of the Lawgiver to appoint such a punishment as might overpoise all temptations to break the law. It is just to make a proportion between the quality of the offence, and the degrees of punishment." Sin is a contempt of God's Majesty that is truly infinite. The obligations of reasonable creatures to the Creator, extremely increase the guilt of Sin. The meanness of the motives that induce men to sin, aggravates the offence. The despising of eternal life, and the choosing the pleasures of sin, with hell in its retinue, makes the punishment to be justly inflicted on them. The obstinate and incurable lusts of men, justly make them the Objects of revenging justice forever.
We are next to consider the sanction of the law that enforces obedience; and it will appear that God is not extreme, but wisely and justly ordained eternal death to be the punishment of sin.
This will appear by considering,
[1.] The end of the sanction is to preserve the authority of the law in its full vigor, to render it most solemn and awful; and consequently it is the wisdom of the lawgiver to ordain a punishment so heavy, as to overpoise all temptations that might otherwise induce the subjects to transgress its precepts.
Therefore to Adam, the first and second death was threatened upon his disobedience; and fear, as a sentinel, was planted in his breast, that no guilty thought, no irregular desire, no deceitful suggestion should enter to break the tables of the law deposited therein. Now since, notwithstanding the threatening, man was so easily seduced by the insinuations of the tempter to break the law, and disorder the government of God in the world, it is evident that such a restraint was not over-vigorous to secure his obedience. I shall not insist on what is sadly visible since the first apostacy, that there is in mankind such a prodigious propensity to sensual things, that without the fear of hell, no arguments are strong enough to prevent the bold violation of the divine law.
[2.] It is consented to by common reason, that there ought to
be a proportion between the quality of the offence, and the degrees of the punishment. Justice * takes the scales into its band before it takes the sword. Now sin against God is of such an immense guilt, that an eternal punishment is but equivalent to it. This will appear by considering,
(1.) The perfections of the lawgiver who is infinitely above us. One act of sin is rebellion against God, and includes in it the contempt of his majesty, before whom the highest angels cover their faces with reverence and adoration, as unworthy to behold his glory; and cover their feet, as unworthy that he should behold them, Isa. 6. 2, 3. the contradiction of his holiness that is his peculiar glory; the denial of his omniscience and omnipresence, as if he were confined to the superior world, Job. 22. 14. and busy in regulating the harmonious order of the stars, and did not discern and observe what is done below; the defiance of his eternal power “provoking him to jealousy, as if we were stronger than he.”
(2.) If we consider the obligations of the reasonable creatures to obey his commands, the guilt of sin rises prodigiously. They were made by his power, with his special character of excelleney, according to his image: they were happy in his love: they were endowed with intellectual faculties capable to understand and consider their obligations to their bountiful Lord. From hence it appears that sin is the 'most unnatural rebellion against God, and in it there is a concurrence of impiety, ingratitude, perfidiousness, and whatever may inhance a crime to an excess of wickedness.
(3.) The meanness of the motives that induce men to prefer the pleasing their depraved appetites before obedience to his sacred will, extremely aggravates the offence of this we have a convincing instance of the first sin committed upon earth. Deceitful curiosity, flattering pride, a secret pleasure of acting according to his will, joined with the low attractives of sense, blinded and transported Adam to eat the mortal fruit, against the express command of God. And ever since, the vanishing shadows of honor, or gain, or pleasure, are the only persuasives to sin, and what can be more provoking, than for a trifle to transgress the law of God, and equally despise his favor and displeasure? Can any punishment less than eternal, expiate such impieties? The rules of human justice may discover to us the equity of the divine justice. It is ordained by the wisest states, that many crimes which may be done in a few minutes, shall be punished with death, and the offender be depraved of his natural life forever. And is it not most just that treason against the great and immortal king, should be revenged with everlasting death ?
Adsit Regula peccatis, quæ pænas irroget æquas. Horat.