We commonly make many rules in religion, and turn it into a laborious art, full of intricate questions, precepts, and contentions. As there hath been a great deal of vanity in the conception of speculative divinity, by a multitude of vain and unedifying questions which have no profit in them, or are beneficial to them that are occupied therein, but only have stirred up strife and envy, and raised the flame of contention in the Christian world; so I fear that practical divinity is no less vitiated and spoiled in this age amongst true Christians (by many perplexed cases relating to every condition), than the other among the schoolmen. Hereby it seems to me, that Christ and his apostles did not suppose it to be so perplexed a business as we now do make it; neither did the hearers weary themselves or others with so many various objections against the practice of the fundamental commandment of the gospel, believing in Jesus Christ. The plain nature of the gospel being holden forth and received, I am persuaded, was and is able (like the sun arising in brightness) to dispel and scatter all these mists and clouds which do arise both in the one and other, from ignorance at first, and which are elevated to a greater height by the custom of the times. The matter, my brethren, is not so dark as you make it. Here it is plainly and simply expressed: "This is his commandment, that ye believe in the name of his Son;" and then, "love one another." Ye all know that we had commandments given us by God, which were by nature impressed on the heart of man; but by his fall into sin, the tables of the law (which I may say were in Adam's mind and heart, understanding and affection), those two tables were broken in the fall, and since there could be no obedience, because of ignorance and perversion, the tables breaking in pieces, their ruptures have produced these two opposite principles. The fall of man hath broken his mind, and so darkened his understanding, and broken his will, and put it in a wrong set. This appointed it, set it in a posture of enmity against God. However, we are by this fall utterly disabled to stand up before God in acceptable obedience. There is no man breathing, how blameless soever he be before the world, but must fall down as guilty before God in many things, yea, in all things. But the law being thus obliterated out of men's consciences, as he lost ability to obey, so he lost almost all conscience of sin and disobedience. He not knowing his charge and obligation, could not accuse himself for falling in rebellion. Therefore it pleased the Lord to cause the law to be written in tables of stone in mount Sinai. He transcribes the commandments over again, that all the world may see their obligation, and how infinitely short they have come in their subjection, and how just their condemnation may be. For this purpose, the Lord causes proclaim the old bond in the ears of men with great majesty and authority, as it became the Lawgiver, that all may become guilty, and stop their mouth before God, Rom. iii.19. He would once have all men knowing that they are under infinite breaches of his commandments, that they may see themselves also subject to his judgment. Now, what do you think of a soul that stands at the foot of this mountain, and hears a dreadful accusation read against it, to all which the conscience within must subscribe unto, and both together pronounce the person guilty and liable to eternal punishment? I say, what can such a soul do, who has with trembling heard his voice? Satisfaction there cannot be given for an infinite offence against an infinite nature. The curse and sentence which was the sanction and confirmation of this commandment is just, and there appears no way how, without violation of God's justice, it can be repealed. Obedience to these commandments is now both impossible and unprofitable; -- impossible, I say, because of the weakness and wickedness of the flesh, that has no ability nor willingness but to offend and disobey; and unprofitable, because it cannot at all relax the former sentence of condemnation. Now obedience, being a present duty, cannot pay old debts, or satisfy for our former rebellions, and so it must leave a man to seen condemnation. I fear this is a puzzle that all consciences must come unto here, or elsewhere. Here is a strait indeed.
But yet there is an enlargement, there is a way found out of bringing the soul out of the miry clay, and deep pit of misery; and it is this, God hath found out a ransom for himself, without our procurement, or consent, or knowledge. He hath provided a satisfaction to his justice in his Son Jesus Christ. Having laid upon him our iniquities, he exacts of him our deserved punishment, and makes him a curse who knew no sin. Now this being done, the Lord sends forth to all poor sinners who are trembling at mount Sinai this proclamation, -- this is my last and most peremptory command, that ye believe in the name of my Son Jesus Christ. This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, hear ye him. Have ye heard me the lawgiver condemning you? Now go and hear him, the Mediator and Saviour, absolving you, for I have committed all judgment unto him. Though I pronounce the sentence in this world against you, yet I have committed all the execution of it to him, and if you come to him, you may prevent it. You have broken all my former commandments, and I have pronounced a sentence against you for that. But now I give a new commandment instead of all the former, which if you obey, then the sentence of death is relaxed. You who cannot obey the law and give satisfaction in your own persons, I charge you to flee unto my Son Christ, who hath given me full satisfaction both to the curse, by suffering, and to the command, by obedience, and lay hold on his righteousness as your own, and in him ye are justified, and delivered from all these sentences and hard writings against you. I give a new commandment as the cure and remedy of all broken commandments. Believe on this name, in which is salvation. Take his obedience and suffering for your cure, and present me with that, I shall be as well satisfied as with your own personal satisfaction.
This now is very plain business. All commands are broken. There is yet one published in the gospel to help all, and it is in substance to embrace and welcome Jesus Christ for all, to seek our life and salvation in him, to take him as a priest to offer sacrifice for us, and expiate our sins, and to come to him as a prophet to seek wisdom and illumination, and all grace from him; to choose him as our King, henceforth to submit to his easy yoke of government. Now I say there will be no more debates about this. Will ye yet dispute whether ye may believe or not? Will ye inquire after this whether you have a warrant or not? Truly such a question would occasion much jealousy and provocation among men. If a man had signified as much willingness by command, by invitation, by request, by frequent repetition of these, yet to call in question or dispute whether or not I may go to such a person, will he make me welcome, were it not the greatest affront I could put upon him? Would it not alienate his affection more than any thing, to be jealous of his real kindness to me.
I would desire to hold out unto you the sin, the danger, and the vanity of such a way. I say the sin is great, it is no less than the highest and most heinous disobedience to the gospel, which of all others is of the deepest dye. You have disobeyed the law, and broken all the ten commandments. And will ye therefore disobey the gospel, too, and break this fundamental commandment? Is it not enough that ye have broken the rest, and will ye break this also, which was given for the cure of all?
Consider, I say, this is his commandment. Now commands should be obeyed, and not disputed, coming from an infallible and uncontrollable authority. Would ye not silence all the rebellions of your hearts against the commands of praying, hearing, reading, dealing justly, and walking soberly, with this one word, it is his command, it is his sovereign will? And why do ye not see the stamp of that same authority upon this? Now if you consider it aright, it hath more authority upon it than upon others, because it is his last command, and so would be taken as most pungent and weighty. When your hearts rise up to question and dispute this matter, I pray you cut all these knotty objections with the sword of his commandment. You use to go about to loose them by particular answers and untie them at leisure with art and skill, but truly it would be a readier and wiser course to cut them in pieces at one stroke, by this piercing and pungent precept. If your reasons and scruples be weighty, and you cannot get answers to overbalance them, I pray you put this weighty seal of divine authority into the balance, and sure I am it will weigh down all. Consider then the danger of it. It is the last and most peremptory command, after which you may expect no other, but the execution of justice. How sad and severe is the certification, "He that believeth not is condemned already," and "the wrath of God abideth on him." There needs no new sentence to be pronounced against you. Why? Because, if you believe not, that prior sentence of the law is yet standing above your heads to condemn you, that wrath abides on you. This is the only way to remove it, to come to him, who hath taken it on himself, after the breach of all commands. Ye have this retreat, this refuge to flee unto, a new command to come unto the Son, and have life; but after this disobedience of the Son, you have none. There is nothing after unbelief, but ye are turned over, or rather left over, in the hand of the law and divine justice. Therefore it is the most dangerous and damnable thing to disobey this. It is to refuse the very remedy of sin. Consider also what vanity and uselessness is in these debates. What an unreasonable and senseless thing is it to dispute against our own soul, and against our own happiness! All is wrapt up here, and we do no less than the highest act of self-murder that can be. He that hateth me, wrongs his own soul. What an unreasonable thing then is it, because ye are miserable, to refuse mercy; because ye are unclean, therefore to maintain that ye are not to come to the blessed fountain of cleansing; because ye have broken the rest of the commands, therefore ye may not obey this? Is there any sense or reason in such things; because I am a sinner, therefore I will not come to a Saviour? Alas! to what purpose was the Son sent and given, and for what end came he? Was it not to seek and to save such as are lost and undone, and to deliver them from misery? What do you gain by such questions? For at length you must turn and enter in at the door of a naked command and promise, when you have wearied yourselves to find that in your hearts which is not in them, to seek waters in the wilderness, and springs in the desert, qualifications and graces in your own hearts to warrant your boldness in coming to the promise. I say, when you have sought and all in vain, you must at length come to this fountain in which is all grace and happiness. If you had what you seek, yet if ye would indeed believe in Christ, you must deny them and look upon yourselves as ungodly, to be justified by faith. Why then do you grasp after that which can do you no good, (though you had it), I mean, in point of your acceptation? Consider it, my beloved, that the honour of God and your own happiness lies most in this, nay not only that, but your holiness too, which you pretend to seek after, lies in it. Till you come to Christ, it is in vain to seek it elsewhere.