« PreviousContinue »
Holiness necessary, from the Commands of God.
E have evinced the necessity of holiness from the nature and the decrees of God; our next argument shall be taken from his commands. It is needless to produce instances of God's commands that we should be holy; for it is the concurrent voice of the Law and Gospel. Our inquiry must be, What force is there in this argument? or, Whence do we conclude a necessity of holiness from the commands of God? To this end, the nature and properties of these commands must be considered; we are to get our minds and consciences affected with them, so as to endeavour after holiness on their account: for our holiness is obedience, and obedience respects a command. For men to pretend to holiness from a principle within, without respect to the commands of God in his word, is to make themselves their own God, and to despise obedience, to him who is over all, God blessed for ever.' Then are we the servants of God, the disciples of Christ, when we do what is commanded, and because it is commanded.
But to make our way more clear, we must premise, that God's commands may be considered, 1. As they belong to the Covenant of Works. 2. As they belong to the Covenant of Grace. The same things, as to the matter of them, are required in both; but there is a great difference in the manner and end of these commands.
For, 1. The commands of God, as under the old covenant, so require universal holiness in us, that upon the least failure, they allow of nothing else we do, but determine us transgressors of the whole law. The end required by them is, that they may be our righteousness before God or that we may be justified thereby. Rom. x. 4, 5. 2. It is otherwise, on both these accounts, with the commands of God under the new covenant, or in the Gospel; for, though God requires universal holiness in them, yet not in that rigorous way as by the law; so that, if we fail in any thing, all should be rejected: but he doth it
with a mixture of grace and mercy; so that, if there be an universal sincerity, in a respect to all his commands, he accepts of it on account of the mediation of Christ :but yet there is no relaxation as to any duty of holiness, nor any indulgence to the least sin; the obligation to universal holiness is equal to what it was under the law, though a relief be provided, where we come short of it, in sincerity on the one hand, and mercy on the other.
The commands of the Gospel do not require holiness to the same end as the commands of the law did, namely, that thereby we may be justified; he has provided another righteousness for that end, which fully answers all that the law requires, and whereby he has exalted more than ever the honour of his own holiness and righteousness. Now, this is no other than the righteousness of Christ imputed to us; for he is the end of the law for righteousness to them that believe.' But God has appointed other ends to our holiness, and so to his command of it in the Gospel, consistent with the nature of that obedience which he will accept of us, and such as we may attain through the power of his grace.
I. The first thing to be considered in the command of God that we should be holy, is the authority of it. It is indispensably necessary that we should be holy, on account of the authority of God's command. Authority, wherever it is just, carries with it an obligation to obedience: take this away, and you fill the world with disorder. If the authority of parents, masters, and magistrates, did not oblige children, servants, and subjects to obedience, the world would fall into hellish confusion. God himself makes use of the argument, to convince men of the neces sity of obedience: A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if I then be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear?-If, in all particular relations where there is any thing of superiority, obedience is expected and exacted,—is it not due to me, who have all authority?
There are two things which enforce the obligation,The right of commanding, and the power of executing; both comprised in James iv. 12. There is one Law-giver, who is able to save and to destroy.' 1. He who commands us to be holy, is our Sovereign Law-giver; his comd proceeds from the absolute power of a Sovereign Le
gislator; and where this is not complied with, the whole authority of God is despised. So God, in many places, calls sinning against his commands despising him,' and 'despising of his commandment.' Here, then, we found the necessity of holiness, on the command of God. This are we to carry about with us wherever we go; and whatever we do, to keep our souls under the power of it, in all our duties, and on all occasions of sin. Were this written on the hearts of men, in their ways, trades, shops, affairs, families, studies, closets, they would haveholiness to the Lord' on their breasts and foreheads too. 2. The apostle tells us, that as God in his commands is a Sovereign Law-giver, so he is able to kill and keep alive;' that is, his commanding authority is accompanied with a power, whereby he is able eternally to reward the obedient, and to punish the disobedient :-for, though I would not exclude other considerations, yet I think this of eternal rewards and punishments is principally intended.
Our Saviour, Math. x. 28, mentions a killing, which is opposed to all temporal evil, and death itself. Fear not them who can kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.' And this keeping alive, is a deliverance from the wrath to come, in everlasting life; and this is that which gives unavoidable efficacy to the command. The minds of men are little influenced by the rewards and punishments of human laws, for they frequently prefer their present satisfaction before them. They have also a secret apprehension, that the lawmakers neither will nor can execute the penalties threatened: but things are quite otherwise with respect to the laws of God. The rewards and punishments being eternal, cannot be balanced by any consideration of this present world. Nor can there be any reserve on account of mutability, ignorance, impotence, or any other pretence that they shall not be executed. The promise of eternal blessedness on the one hand, or the threatening of misery on the other, will certainly befal us, according as we shall be found holy or unholy. God commands us to be holy. But what if we are not so? Why, as sure as God is holy and powerful, we shall eternally perish. What if we comply with the command, and become holy? On the same ground of assurance, we shall be brought to everlasting felicity.
Some, perhaps, will say, that to yield obedience to God with respect to rewards and punishments, is servile, and becomes not the free spirit of the children of God;—but this is a vain imagination. The bondage of our own spirits may make every thing we do servile: but a due respect to God's promises and threatenings is a principal part of our liberty. It is, therefore, our duty, if we would be found walking in a course of holy obedience, to keep a sense of the authority of God's command constantly fixed on our minds: and we may apply this-to persons and occasions.
(I.) As to persons :-Let the great and noble especially regard this, whose special temptation it is to be lifed up to a disregard of God's authority. The prophet distributes incorrigible sinners into two sorts. The first are the poor and it is their folly and sensual lusts that keep them from observing the command :- They have refused to receive correction, they have refused to return; therefore I said, Surely, these are poor, they are sottish, for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God.' Jer. v. 3. But there is another sort of sinners to whom the prophet applies:- I will get me to the great men, and I will speak unto them, for they have known the way of the Lord, and the judgment of their God. Great men, by reason of their education and other advantages, attain to a knowledge of the will of God, or at least may be thought to have done so. They therefore are not likely to be obstinate in sin, merely from stupid ignorance and folly. No, saith the prophet, they take another course: They have altogether broken the yoke, and burst the bonds.' They are like a company of rude beasts, who, having broken their yokes, run up and down the fields, treading down the corn, breaking up the fences, pushing with the horn, and trampling on all before them. Now this breaking the yoke,' is the despising the authority of God in the command. Seeing, therefore, that this is the special temptation of such persons, let all those who have the least sincere desire after holiness, watch diligently, to keep up a due sense of the authority of God on their minds. When you are in the height of your greatness, in the fulness of your enjoyments, in the most urgent your avocations, remember him who is over all, and con
sider that you are subject to his authority equally with the poorest creature on earth.
(2.) Let us all endeavour to carry a constant regard to the authority of God in his commands, into all those occasions, places, or societies, wherein we are apt to be surprised into any sin. (1.) Carry this with you into your secret retirements and enjoyments: neglect hereof is the cause of those secret sins which the world swarms with. When no eyes sees but the eye of God, men think themselves secure. Hereby many have been surprised into folly, which has proved the beginning of a total apostacy. An awe from the authority of God in the command, will secure us equally in all places, and on all occasions. (2.) Let us carry it into our business and callings. Most men are very apt to be intent on present occasions, and, having a certain end before them, habituate themselves to the ways of its attainment;-and, while they are so engaged, many things occur, which are apt to divert them from the rule of holiness. Whenever, therefore, you enter into your occasions wherein you may expect that temptations will arise, call to mind the greatness and authority of him who hath commanded you to be holy. (3.) Carry it with you into your companies and societies; for many have frequent occasions of engaging in such societies, wherein the least forgetfulness of the sovereign authority of God will betray them into vanity and corrupt communication, till they hear with pleasure, and do with delight, such things whereby the holy Spirit of God is grieved, their own consciences are defiled, and the honour of profession is cast to the ground.
II. The command of God that we should be holy, is to be considered not only as a fruit of authority which we must submit to, but as a fruit of infinite wisdom and goodness also, which it is our highest advantage to comply with-and this introduces a peculiar necessity of holiness from the consideration of what is reasonable and ingenuous; the contrary of which would be foolish and ungrateful, every way unbecoming rational creatures. Where nothing can be discerned in commands but mere authority, they are looked on merely as representing the good of those who command, and not theirs who obey; which weakens the principle of obedience. Now, though God, because his dominion over us is sovereign, might have justly left