You know there are two principal things in the preceding verse, -- the privilege of a Christian, and the property or character of a Christian. He is one that never enters into condemnation; He that believeth shall not perish, John iii.15. And then he is one that walks not after the flesh, though he be in the flesh, but in a more elevate way above men, after the guiding and leading of the Holy Spirit of God. Now it may be objected in many consciences, -- how can these things be? Have not all sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and so the whole world is become guilty before God? Is not every man lying under a sentence of death? "Cursed is he that abides not in all things," &c. How then can he escape condemnation? Again, you speak of walking after the Spirit, as proper to the Christian; but whose walk is not carnal? Who is he that doth not often step aside out of the way, and follow the conduct and counsel of flesh and blood? Is not sin dwelling here in our mortal bodies? Who can say, my heart or way is clean? Therefore both that privilege and this property of a Christian, seem to be but big words, no real thing. And indeed I confess the multitude of men hath no other opinion of them but as fancied imaginary things; few believe the report of the gospel concerning the salvation of elect ones, and few understand what this spiritual walking is. Many conceive it is not a thing that belongs to men, who are led about with passions and affections, but rather to angels or spirits perfected.
However, we have in these words an answer to satisfy both objections. He grants something implicitly, and it is this: It is true indeed, Christians are under a twofold law, captives and bondmen to these, -- a law of sin in their members, bringing them in subjection to the lusts of the flesh. Sin hath a powerful dominion and tyranny over every man by nature. It hath a sort of light and power over him. And likewise, every one was under a law of death, the law of God cursing him, and sentencing him to condemnation because of sin. These two were joint conquerors of all mankind. But, saith he, there is a delivery from this bondage. Freedom is obtained to believers by Jesus Christ, and so "there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ," and so they walk not after the leading and direction of that law of sin within them, but after the guiding of our blessed Tutor, -- the Spirit of God. If you ask how this comes to pass, -- by what authority, or law, or power, is this releasement and freedom obtained? Here it is, -- "by the law of the Spirit of life, which is in Christ." Christ is not an invader, or unjust conqueror, he hath fair law for what he doth, even against those laws which detain unbelievers in bondage. There is a higher and later law on his side, and he hath power and strength to accomplish his design. He opposes law unto law, and life unto death, and spirit unto flesh; a law of spirit unto a law of sin and flesh; a law of life unto a law of death; -- in a word, the gospel, or covenant of grace, unto the law or covenant of works. The powerful and living Spirit of grace that wrought mightily in him, is set fore-against the power of sin and Satan in us, and against us. The one gives him right and title to conquer, the other accomplisheth him for the work; and by these two are believers in Jesus Christ made freemen, who were bondmen. That, then, which we would speak from these words, is the common lot of all men by nature, viz. to be under the power of sin, and sentence of death; the special exemption of believers in Christ, and immunity from this, or delivery from it; and then the true ground and cause of this delivery from that bondage; -- which three are contained in the words, it is a purpose indeed of a high nature, and of high concernment to us all. Our life and death is wrapt up in this. You may hear many things more gladly, but if you knew it, none so profitable. Therefore let us gather our spirits to the consideration of these particulars.
As to the first, all men are under the bondage of a twofold law, -- the law of sin within them, and the law of death without them. Man was created righteous; but, saith the wise man, he "sought out many inventions." A sad invention indeed! He found out misery and slavery to himself, who was made free and happy. His freedom and happiness was to be in subjection to his Maker, under the just and holy commands of his Lord, who had given him breath and being. It was no captivity or restraint to be compassed about with the hedges of the Lord's holy law, no more than it is a restraint on a man's liberty to have his way hedged in, where he may safely walk, that he may keep himself within it, from pits and snares on every hand. But, alas! -- if we may say alas, when we have such a redemption in Jesus Christ, -- Adam was not content with that happiness, but seeking after more liberty, he sold himself into the hands of strange lords, -- first sin, and then death. "Other lords besides thee, O Lord, have had dominion over us," Isa. xxvi.13. This is too true in this sense; Adam seeking to be as the Lord himself, lost his own lordship and dominion over all the works of God's hands, and became a servant to the basest and most abominable of all, even that which is most hateful to the Lord, -- to sin and death. And this is the condition we are now born into. Consider it, I pray you, -- we are born captives and slaves, the most noble, the most ingenuous, and the most free of us all. Paul speaks of it as a privilege to be born free; to be free in man's commonwealth. It is counted a dignity to be a free citizen or burgess of a town. Liberty is the great claim of people now-a-days; and indeed it is the great advantage of a people to enjoy that mother and womb privilege and right. But, alas! What is all this to be free-born in a civil society? It is but the state of a man among men. It reaches no further than the outward man, his life or estate. But here is a matter of greater moment, -- know you what state your souls are in? Your souls are incomparably more worth than your bodies, as much as eternity surpasseth this inch of time, or immortality exceeds mortality. Your souls are yourselves, indeed; your bodies are but your house or tabernacle you lodge into for a season. Now then, I beseech you, ask whether you be born free or not. If your souls be slaves, you are slaves indeed; for so the evangelist changeth these. Matthew saith, in chap. xvi.26, "what hath a man gained, if he lose his own soul?" And Luke, chap. ix.25, saith, what hath he gained, if he "lose himself?" Therefore you are not free indeed except your souls be free. What is it, I pray you, to enjoy freedom among men? I ask you, what are you before God, whether bond or free? This is the business indeed. The Pharisees pleaded a claim to the liberty and privilege of being Abraham's sons and children, and thought they might hence conclude they were God's children. But our Lord Jesus discovers this mistake, when he tells them of a freedom and liberty that he came to proclaim to men, to purchase to them, and bestow on them. They stumbled at this doctrine. What, say they, talkest thou to us of making us free? We were never in bondage, because we be Abraham's children. This is even the language of our hearts, when we tell you, that ye are born heirs of wrath, and slaves of sin and Satan. Here is the secret whispering of hearts; -- we be Abraham's seed; we were never in bondage to any. We be baptized Christians; we have a church state, -- have the privileges, and liberties, not only of subjects in the state, but of members in the church; why sayest thou, we are bondmen? I would wish ye were all free indeed, but that cannot be till you know your bondage. Consider then, I beseech you, that you may be free subjects in a state, and free members in a church, and yet in bondage, under the law of sin and death. This was the mistake; that was a ground of presumption in the Jews, and occasioned their stumbling at this stone of salvation laid in Sion. You think you have church privileges, and what needs more? Be not deceived, -- you are servants of sin, and therefore not free. There are two sorts or rather two ranks of persons in God's house, -- sons and slaves. The son abides in the house for ever, the slave but for a time. When the time expires, he must go out, or be cast out. The church is God's house, but many are in it that will not dwell in it. Many have the outward liberties of this house, that have no interest in the special mercies and loving kindness proper to children. The time will come, that the most part of the visible church, who are baptized, and have eaten with him at his table, and had a kind of friendship to him here, shall be cast out as bondmen, and Isaac only shall be kept within, the child of the promise. The house that is here hath some inward sanctuary, and some outer porches. Many have access to these, that never enter within the secret of the Lord, and so shall not dwell in the house above. It is not so much the business, who shall enter into the holy hill, but who shall stand and dwell in it. The day of judgment will be a great day of excommunication. O how many thousands will be then cut off from the church of the living God, and delivered over to Satan, because they were really under his power, while they were church-members and Abraham's sons! Let me tell you then, that all of us were once in this state of bondage which Christ speaks of, -- he that "committeth sin is the servant of sin," John viii.34; "and the servant abideth not in the house for ever." So that I am afraid, many of us who are in the visible church, and stand in this congregation, shall not have liberty to stand in the assembly of the first-born, when all the sons are gathered in one to the new Jerusalem. Sin hath a right over us, and it hath a power over us, and therefore it is called a law of sin. There is a kind of authority that it hath over us, by virtue of God's justice, and our own voluntary consent. The Lord in his righteousness hath given over all the posterity of Adam, for his sin, which he sinned, as a common person, representing us, -- he hath given us all over to the power of a body of death within us. Since man did choose to depart from his Lord, he hath justly delivered him into the hands of a strange lord to have dominion over him. The transmitting of such an original pollution, to all men, is an act of glorious justice. As he in justice gives men over to the lusts of their own hearts now, for following of these lusts contrary to his will; so was it, at first, "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners," and that, in God's holy righteousness, sin entered into the world, and had permission of God to subdue and conquer the world to itself, because man would not be subject to God. But as there is the justice of God in it, so there is a voluntary choice and election, which gives sin a power over us. We choose a strange lord, and he lords it over us. We say to our lusts, come ye and rule over us. We submit our reason, our conscience, and all, to the guidance and leading of our blind affections and passions. We choose our bondage for liberty. And thus sin hath a kind of law over us, by our own consent. It exerciseth a jurisdiction; and when once it is installed in power and clothed with it, it is not so easy again to put it out of that throne. There is a conspiring, so to speak, of these two, to make out the jurisdiction and authority of sin over us. God gives us over to iniquity and unrighteousness, and we yield ourselves over to it. Rom. vi.16, 19, We yield our members servants to iniquity. A little pleasure or commodity is the bait that ensnares us to this. We give up ourselves, and join to our idols, and God ratifies it, in a manner, and passeth such a sentence, -- Let them alone, he says, go ye every one and serve your idols, Hos. iv.17. Since ye would not serve me, be doing, -- go serve your lusts, look if they be better masters than I; look what wages they will give you.
Now, let us again consider what power sin hath, being thus clothed with a sort of authority. O but it is mighty, and works mightily in men! It reigns in our mortal bodies, Rom. vi.12. Here is the throne of sin established in the lusts and affections of the body, and from hence it emits laws and statutes, and sends out commands to the soul and whole man. Man chose at first to hearken to the counsel of his senses, that said, it was pleasant and good to eat of the forbidden fruit; but that counsel is now turned into a command. Sin hath gotten a sceptre there, to rule over the spirit which was born a free prince. Sin hath conquered all our strength, or we have given up unto it all our strength. Any truth that is in the conscience; any knowledge of God, or religion, all this is incarcerated, detained in a prison of unrighteous affections. Sin hath many strongholds and bulwarks in our flesh, and by these commands the whole spirit and soul in man, and leads captive every thought to the obedience of the flesh. You know how strong it was in holy Paul, Rom. vii.; what a mighty battle and wrestling he had, and how near he was to fainting and giving over. How then must it have an absolute and sovereign full dominion over men in nature! There being no contrary principle within, by nature, to debate with it, it rules without much controlment. There may be many convictions of conscience, and sparkles of light against sin, but these are quickly extinguished and buried. Nay, all these principles of light and knowledge in the conscience, do oftentimes strengthen sin, as some things are confirmed, not weakened, by opposition. Unequal and faint opposition strengthens the adversary, as cold, compassing springs, makes them hotter. So it is here. Sin takes occasion, by the command, to work "all manner of concupiscence," Rom. vii.8. Without the law, sin is in a manner dead; but when any adversary appears, when our lusts and humours are crossed, then they unite their strength against any such opposition, and bring forth more sinful sin. The knowledge and conscience that many have, serve nothing but to make their sins greater; to exasperate and imbitter their spirits and lusts against God. "Why tormentest thou me before the time?" It is a devilish disposition that is in us all, -- We cannot endure the light, because our deeds are evil.
Let us but consider these particulars, and we shall know the power and dominion of sin.1st, Consider the extent of its dominion, both in regard of all men, and all in every man. I say, all men, -- there is none of us exempted from it; the most noble, and the most base. Sin is the catholic king, the universal king, or rather Satan, who is the prince of this world, and he rules the world, by this law of sin, which is even the contradiction of the law of God. Who of you believes this, that Satan's kingdom is so spacious, -- that it is even over the most part of the visible church? This is the emperor of the world. The Turk vainly arrogates this title to himself, but the devil is truly so, and we have God's own testimony for it. All kings, all nobles, all princes, all people, rich and poor, high and low, are once subjects of this prince, ruled by this black law of sin. O know your condition, whose servants ye are! Think not within yourselves, "we have Abraham for our father," -- we are baptized Christians. No, know that all of us are once the children of Satan, and do his works, and fulfil his will. But moreover, all that is in us is subject to this law of sin, -- all the faculties of the soul. The understanding is under the power of darkness, the affections under the power of corruption, the mind is blinded, and the heart is hardened, the soul alienated from God, who is its life; all the members and powers of a man yielded up as instruments of unrighteousness, every one to execute that wicked law, and fulfil the lusts of the flesh. This dominion is over all a man's actions, even those that are in best account and esteem among men. Your honest, upright dealing with men, your most religious performances to God, they are more conformed to the law of sin, than to the law of God, -- Hag. ii.14. "This nation, and the work of their hands, and that which they offer, is unclean." All your works, your good works, are infected with this pollution. Sin hath defiled your persons, and they defile all your actions, -- the infection is mutual. These actions again defile your persons still more: To the impure all things are impure, "even their mind and conscience is defiled," Tit. i.15. Do what ye can, ye who are in nature cannot please God; it is but obedience to the law of sin that is in you.
But 2d, Consider the intenseness and force of his power, how mighty it is in working against all oppositions whatsoever, unless it be overcome by almighty power. Nothing but All-might can conquer this power. The spirit that works in men by nature, is of such activity and efficacy, that it drives men on furiously, as if they were possessed to their own ruin. How much hath it of a man's consent! And so it drives him strongly and irresistibly. Much will, desire, and greediness, will make corruption run like a river, over all its banks set in the way thereof, -- counsel, persuasion, law, heaven, hell, yet men's corruption must be over all these. Preaching, threatenings, convictions of conscience, are but as flaxen ropes to bind a Samson. Sin within easily breaks them. In a word, no created power is of sufficient virtue to bind the strong man; it must be one mightier than he, and that is the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Do ye not see men daily drawn after their lusts, as beasts, following their senses as violently as a horse rusheth to the battle! If there be any gain or advantage to oil the wheels of affection, O how men run headlong! There is no crying will hold them. In sum, sin is become all one with us; it is incorporate into the man, and become one with his affections, and then these command.