That whereabout the thoughts and discourses of men now run, is freedom and liberty, or bondage and slavery. All men are afraid to lose their liberties, and be made servants to strangers. And indeed liberty, whether national or personal, even in civil respects, is a great mercy and privilege. But alas! men know not, neither do they consider, what is the ground and reason of such changes, and from what fountain it flows, that a nation for a long time free from a foreign yoke, should now be made to submit their necks unto it. Many wonder that our nation, unconquered in the days of ignorance and darkness, should now be conquered in the days of the gospel; and there want not many ungodly spirits, that will rather impute the fault unto the reformation of religion, than take it to themselves. There are many secret heart jealousies among us, that Christ is a hard master, and cannot be served. But would you know the true original of our apparent and threatened bondage? Come and see; come and consider something expressed in these words. All your thoughts are busied about civil liberty; but you do not consider that you are in bondage while you are free, and that to worse masters than you fear. We are under a law of sin and death, that hath the dominion and sway in all men's affections and conversations; and when the glorious liberty of the sons of God is offered unto us in the gospel, when the Son hath come to make us free, we love our own chains, and will not suffer them to be loosed. Therefore it is that a nation that hath despised such a gracious offer of peace and freedom in Jesus Christ, is robbed and spoiled of peace and freedom. When this law of the Spirit of life in Christ is published, and proclaimed openly unto congregations, unto judicatories, and unto persons, yet few do regard it. The generality are in bondage to a contrary law of sin, and this they serve in the lusts thereof. Yea, -- which most of all aggravates and heightens the offence, -- even after we have all of us professed a subjection to the law of God, and to Jesus Christ, the King and Lawgiver, we are in an extraordinary way engaged to the Lord, by many oaths and covenants, to be his people; we did consent that he should be our King, and that we should be ruled in our profession and practice by his word and will, as the fundamental laws of this his kingdom; we did solemnly renounce all strange lords, that had tyrannized over us; and did swear against them, never to yield willing obedience unto them; namely, the lusts of the world, ignorance of God, unbelief, and disobedience. Now what became of all this work, you may know. The generality of all ranks have rebelled against that Lord and Prince, and withdrawn from his allegiance, and revolted unto the same lusts and ways -- these same courses against which we had, both by our profession of Christianity and solemn oaths, engaged ourselves. And so men have voluntarily and heartily subjected themselves unto the laws of sin, and desires of the flesh. Hence is the beginning of our ruin. Because we would not serve our own God and Lord in our own land, therefore are so many led away captive(169) to serve strangers in another land, therefore we are like to be captives in our own land. Because we refused homage to our God, and obeyed strange lords within, therefore are we given up to the lust of strangers without.
I would have you thinking, and that seriously, that there are worse masters you serve than those you most hate, and that there is a worse bondage, whereof you are insensible, than that you fear most. You fear strangers, but your greatest evil is within you. You might retire within, and behold worse masters, and more pernicious and mortal enemies to your well-being. This is the case of all men by nature, and of all men as far as in nature; sin ruling, commanding in them, and lording it over them, and they willingly following after the commandment, and so oppressed and broken in judgment. If you could but rightly look upon other men, you might see, that they who are servants of divers lusts, are not their own men, so to speak; they have not the command of themselves. Look upon a man given to drunkenness, and what a slave is he! Whither doth not his lust drive him? Let him bind himself with resolutions, with vows, yet he cannot be holden by them. Shame before men, loss of estate, decay of health, temporal punishment, nay, eternal, all set together, cannot keep him from fulfilling the desires of that lust, when he hath opportunity. A man given to covetousness, how doth he serve that idol! How doth he forget himself to be a man! -- or to have a reasonable soul within him, he is so devoted to it! And thus it is with every man by nature. There may be many petty little gods that he worships upon occasion, but every unrenewed man hath some one thing predominant in him, unto which he hath sworn obedience and devotion. The man most civilized, most abstracted from the grosser outward pollutions, -- yet certainly, his heart within is but a temple full of idols, to the love and service of which he is devoted. There are some of the fundamental laws of Satan's kingdom, that rule in every natural man, -- either the lust of the eyes, or the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life. Every man sacrificeth to one of these his credit and honour, or his pleasure, or his profit. Self, whatever way refined and subtilized in some, yet at best it is but an enemy to God; and without that sphere of self cannot a man act upon natural principles, till a higher Spirit come in, which is here spoken of.
Oh! that you would take this for bondage, to be under this woful necessity of satisfying and fulfilling the desires of your flesh and mind, Eph. ii.2. Many account it only liberty and freedom, therefore they look upon the laws of the Spirit of life as cords and bonds, and consult to cast them off, and cut them asunder. But consider what a wretched life you have with your imperious lusts. The truth is, sin is for the most part its own punishment. I am sure you have more labour and toil in fulfilling the lusts of sin, than you might have in serving God. Men's lusts are never at quiet, they are continually putting you on service, they are still driving and dragging men headlong, hurrying them to and fro, and they cannot get rest. What is the cause of all the disquiet, disorder, confusion, trouble, and wars in the world? From whence do contentions arise? "Come they not hence," saith James, iv.1, "even of your lusts that war in your members?" It is these that trouble the world, and these are the troublers of Israel's peace. These take away inward peace, domestic peace, and national peace. These lusts, covetousness, ambition, pride, passion, self-love, and such like, do set nation against nation, men and men, people and people, by the ears. These multiply businesses beyond necessity; these multiply cares without profit, and so bring forth vexation and torment. If a man had his lusts subdued, and his affections composed unto moderation and sobriety, O what a multitude of noisome and hurtful cares should he then be freed from! What a sweet calmness should possess that spirit! Will you be persuaded of it, beloved in the Lord, that it were easier to serve the Lord than to serve your lusts, -- that they cost you more labour, disquiet, perplexity, and sorrow, than the Lord's service will; that so you may weary of such masters, and groan to be from under such a law of sin.
But if that will not suffice to persuade you, then consider, in the next room, if you will needs serve a law of sin, you must needs be subject to a law of death. If you will not be persuaded to quit the service of sin, then tell me, what think you of your wages? "The wages of sin is death," -- that you may certainly expect; and can you look and long for such wages? God hath joined these together by a perpetual ordinance. They came into the world together, -- "sin entered, and death by sin;" and they have gone hand in hand together since. And think you to dissolve what God hath joined? Before you go farther, and obey sin more, think, I pray you, what it can give you, -- what doth it give you for the present, but much pain, and toil, and vexation, instead of promised pleasure and satisfaction? Sin doth with all men, as the devil doth with some of his sworn vassals and servants. They have a poor wretched life with him. They are wearied and troubled, to satisfy all his unreasonable and imperious commands. He loads them with base service, and they are still kept in expectation of some great reward; but for the present, they have nothing but misery and trouble. And at length he becomes the executioner, and perpetual tormentor of them whom he made to serve him. Such a master is sin, and such wages you may expect. Consider then, what your expectation is, before you go on, or engage further, -- death. We are under a law of bodily death, therefore we are mortal. Our house is like a ruinous lodge, that drops through, and one day or other it must fall. Sin hath brought in the seeds of corruption into men's nature, which dissolve it, else it had been immortal. But there is a worse death after this, a living death, in respect of which simple death would be chosen rather. Men will rather live very miserably than die. Nature hath an aversion to it, -- "skin for skin, and all for life will a man give." Death imports a destruction of being, which every thing naturally seeks to preserve. But O what a dreadful life is it, worse than death, when men will choose death rather than life! O how terrible will it be to hear that word, "Hills and mountains, fall on us, and cover us!" Men newly risen, their bodies and souls meet again after a long separation, and this to be their mutual entertainment one to another, -- the body to wish it were still in the dust, and the soul to desire it might never be in the body! Surely if we had so much grace as to believe this, and tremble at it, before we be forced to act it, there were some hope. If we could persuade ourselves once of this, that the ways of sin, all of them, how pleasant, how profitable soever, whatsoever gain they bring in, whatsoever satisfaction they give, that they are nothing else but "the ways of death," and go down to the chambers of hell; that they will delude and deceive us, and so in end destroy us; -- if we might once believe this with our heart, there were some hope that we would break off from them, and choose the untrodden paths of godliness, which are pleasantness and peace. However, this is the condition of all men, once to be under sin, and under a sentence of death for sin. It is the unbelief of this, and a conceit of freedom, that securely and certainly destroys the world, by keeping souls from Jesus Christ, the Prince of Life.
But there is a delivery, and that is the thing expressed in the words. There is freedom from both attainable. And I think, the very hearing of such a thing, that there is a redemption from sin and misery possible, yea, and that some are actually delivered from it; this might stir up in our hearts some holy ambition, and earnest desire after such a state. How might it awaken our hearts after it! But this is the wofulness of a natural condition, that a soul under the power of sin can neither help itself nor rightly desire help from another, because the will is captive too. This makes it a very desperate and remediless business to any human expectation, because such a soul is well-pleased with its own fetters, and loves its own prison, and so can neither long for freedom, nor welcome the Son who is come to make free. But yet, there is a freedom and delivery; and if ye ask who are partakers of it, the text declares it to you, -- even those who are in Jesus Christ, and walk according to the Spirit of Christ. All those, and those only, who, finding themselves "dead in trespasses and sins," under the power and dominion of sin, and likewise under the sentence of death and condemnation, begin to lift up their heads upon the hope of a Saviour, and to look unto their Redeemer as poor prisoners, whose eyes and looks are strong entreaties, and instead of many requests; -- such as give an entire renounce unto their former ways and prevailing lusts, and give up themselves, in testimony of their sense of his unspeakable favour of redemption, to be wholly his, and not their own. There are some souls who are free from the dominion of sin, and from the danger of death, some who were once led about with divers lusts, as well as others, who walked after the course of this world, and fulfilled the desires of the flesh, and were children of wrath, as well as others; but now they are quickened in Christ Jesus, and have abandoned their former way. They have another rule, another way, other principles. Their study is now to please God, and grow in holiness. The ways they delighted in, in former times, are now loathsome. They think that a filthy puddle, which they drank greedily of; and now it is all, or their chiefest grief and burden, that so much of that old man must be carried about with them, -- and so this expresseth many groans from them with Paul, "Woe is me, miserable man! who shall deliver me?" Such souls are, in a manner, so to speak, half redeemed, who being made sensible of their bondage, groan and pant for a Redeemer. The day of their complete redemption is at hand. All of you are witnesses of this, that there are some thus freed, but they are signs and wonders indeed to the world. Their kinsmen, their acquaintance, their friends and neighbours, wonder what is become of them. They think it strange they walk not, and run not into that same excess of riot with them. But whosoever thou art, that art escaped from under the slavery of sin, wonder at the world, that doth run so madly on their own destruction. Think it strange, that thou didst run so long with them, and that all will not run in these pleasant ways with thee. Think it strange that thou runnest so slowly, when so great a prize is to be obtained, -- an immortal and never-fading crown. If mortifying and crucifying the lusts of the flesh, if dying to the world, and to thyself, seem very hard and unpleasant to thee, if it be as the plucking out of thine eye, and cutting off thine hand; know then, that corruption is much alive yet, and hath much power in thee. But remember, that if thou canst have but so much grace and resolution, as to kill and crucify these lusts, without foolish and hurtful pity, -- if thou canst attain that victory over thyself, thou shalt never be a loser. Thou canst not repent it afterward. To die to ourselves and the world, to kill sin within -- O that makes way to a life hid from the world, one hour whereof is better than many ages in sinful pleasure! Quicken thyself often with this thought, that there is a true life after such a death, and that thou canst not pass into it, but by the valley of the death of thy lusts. Remember, that thou dost but kill thine enemies, which embrace that they may strangle thee; and then stir up yourself with this consideration, -- the life of sin will be thy death. Better enter heaven without these lusts, than go to hell with them.