If we would have a sum of pure and undefiled religion, here it is set down in opposition to this people's shadow of religion, that consisted in external ordinances and rites. We think that God should be as well-pleased with our service as we ourselves, therefore we choose his commands which our humour hath no particular antipathy against and refuse others. But the Lord will not be so served: as he will not share with the world, and divide the soul and service of man with creatures, so as mammon should get part, and he his part. No, if we choose the one, we must refuse the other; for so will he not suffer his word and commands to be divided: there must be some universality in respect of the gospel and the law, and a conjunction of these two, or we cannot please him.
If religion do not include the gospel, we are yet upon the old covenant of works, according to which none can be justified. If it do not include the law in the hands of a mediator, then we turn the grace of God unto wantonness. If it shut out Jesus Christ and have no use of him, how can either we or our performances stand or be accepted before his holy eyes? If it exclude the law that Christ came to establish, how can he be pleased with our religion? both of these offer an indignity to the Son of God. The sum, then, of Christian religion is believing and sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience. That is the root and fountain, this is the fruit and stream; justification of our persons, and sanctification of our lives and hearts. This is pure religion and undefiled. And therefore Isaiah says, "Wash you, make you clean," -- cleanse in the only true fountain of Christ's blood. It is not your purifications of the law, your many washings with water and hyssop; it is not the blood of bulls and of goats can purge your consciences from dead works: they do but purify your flesh, but cannot wash your souls worse defiled. This blood of Jesus Christ is that clean water that he must sprinkle on you, if you would be clean. If you take any other water, any other righteousness but his, and wash thyself therewith, suppose it be snow water that washeth cleanest -- thy most exact conversation, yet, he will plunge thee in the mire, till thine own clothes abhor thee, Job ix.30, 31. Now, when you have washed your persons (ye need not, save to wash your feet, says Christ,) -- your daily conversation, reform it in the virtue of that blood, for we are not called "to uncleanness, but unto holiness," and therefore, "put away the evil of your doings," &c. God hath put away the guilt of your doings by justification, now put ye away the evil of your doings by sanctification, &c. And if ye would know what sanctification is, "cease to do evil," do not return to the old puddle to wallow in it. Ye that are cleansed by this blood, O think how unbeseeming it is to you to defile yourselves again with those things ye are cleansed from! but now, "learn to do well." Ye are given up to Christ, ye must be his disciples, and he will teach you. "Learn of me," saith Christ, (ye need no other law almost but his example, he is a visible and speaking law), yet "seek judgment." As ye ought to look on my example, so especially ponder that word and rule of practice and behaviour that I have left behind me, and given out as the lawgiver of the redeemed. Have I redeemed you, and should not I be the redeemed and ransomed one's king? Is there any society in the world wants a law, order, and government? Neither must ye who are delivered from bondage, enfranchised and made free indeed. Now, ye should of all men most live by a law. And when ye know that rule, then apply it to your several vocations and callings. Let the magistrate act according to it, and every man according to it. Religion consists not in a general notion, but condescends to our particular practice, to reform it. You see then what we would press upon your consciences. It is true religion that we would have you persuaded unto. All men have some kind of religion, even heathens who worship idols, but the true religion respects the true and living God. Now, what is it to worship the true and living God? What is the service of him that may be called religion indeed? Should we be the prescrivers of it?(287) No certainly, he must carve solely in that, or else it cannot please him, therefore "to the law and to the testimony," if ye speak not according to this, and worship not according to this word of God, "it is because there is no light in you." Ye may have a religion before men pure and undefiled, but if it be not so before God and the Father, I pray you to what purpose is it? I am sure it is all lost labour, nay, it is labour with loss, instead of gain. O that ye were persuaded to look and search the scriptures. Think ye to have eternal life out of them? -- and think ye to have eternal life by them, who do not labour to know the way of it set down there? Every one of you hath a different model of religion, according to your fancies and breedings, according as your lusts will suffer you. The rule that the most part walk by is the course and example of the world. Is not this darkness, and gross darkness? Others model their duties according to their ability. They will do all they can do with ease, and without troubling themselves, and they think God may be well pleased with that. I pray you consider and hear the word of the Lord, and law of your God. Hath he set down here the rule and perfect pattern of true religion, and will ye never so much own it, as to examine yours according to it? The scriptures are the touchstone, if you would not have a counterfeit religion deceiving you in the end, when ye have trusted to it, I pray you try it by the word of God. Oh! that this principle were once sunk into your hearts, -- I may not walk at random, if I please myself, and satisfy my own will, if that be not also God's will, I shall have neither gain nor comfort of it. His will is manifested in his word, -- I will search and find what God hath required of me, for if I be not certain of his will, I may be doing all my days, and sweating out my life, and yet lose my pains and toil. I say, this word of the Lord that Isaiah calls to the people to hear, ver.10, will at length judge you. Your religion will be tried in the day of accounts according to it, not according to your rules and methods ye have prescribed unto yourselves. Now, if ye in the meantime shall judge yourselves, according to another rule, and absolve yourselves, and in the end God shall judge you according to this word, and condemn you, were ye not fools in neglecting this word?
The whole will of God concerning your duty may be summed up in two, John hath one of them, 1 John iii.23, "And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment," and Paul hath another to the Thessalonians, 1 Thess iv.3, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." And these two make up this text, so that it unites both gospel and law. The commandment of the law comes forth, and it is found that we have broken and are guilty, that we cannot answer for one of a thousand. The law entering makes sin abound. Our inability, yea, impossibility of obedience is more discovered. Well, then, the gospel proclaims the Lord Jesus Christ for the Saviour of sinners, and commands us, under pain of damnation, to believe in him, -- to cast our souls on him, as one able to save, as one who hath obeyed the law for us, so that this command of believing in Christ is answerable to all the breaches of the law, and tends to make them up in Christ. When he proclaimed the law on mount Sinai, with terror, that which ye hear expressed is not his first commandment, which ye are in the first instance to obey, for all these we have broken, but it hath a gospel command in its bosom, it leads to Jesus Christ, and if ye could read the mind of God in it, ye would resolve all these commands which condemn you and curse you, into one command of believing in the Son, that ye may be saved from that condemnation. And if ye obey this command, which is his last command, and most peremptory, then are the breaches of all the rest made up, the intent of all the rest is fulfilled, though not in your obedience, yet in Christ's, which is better than ours. Believing in Christ presents God with a perfect righteousness, with an obedience even to the death of the cross. When a sinner hears the holy and spiritual sense of the law, and sees it in the light of God's holiness, O how vile must he appear to himself, and how must he abhor himself! What original pollution, what actual pollution, what a fountain within, what uncleanness in streams without, will discover itself! Now, when the most part of men get any sight of this, presently they fall a washing and cleansing themselves, or hiding their filthiness. And what water take they? Their own tears and sorrows, their own resolutions, their own reformations. But alas, we are still more plunged in our own filthiness; that is still marked before him, because all that is as foul as that we would have washen away. What garment do men take to hide themselves ordinarily? Is it not their own righteousness? Is it not a skirt of some duty that is spread over transgressions? Do not men think their sins hid, if they can mourn and pray for a time? Their consciences are eased by reflection upon this. But alas, thine iniquity is still marked! Shall filthiness hide filthiness? Thy righteousness is as a vile garment, as a menstruous cloth, (Isa. lxiv.6.) as well as thine unrighteousness, how then shall it cover thine nakedness? Seeing it is so then, what is the Lord's mind concerning our cleansing? Seeing stretched out hands and many prayers will not do it, what shall I do? The Lord hath showed thee what thou shalt do, and that is, that thou do nothing in relation to that end, that thou shouldst undertake to wash away the least spot by all thy repentance. Yet must thou wash and make clean, and the water is brought new unto you, even the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanseth from all sin. Wash in this blood, and ye shall be clean. And what is it to wash in this blood? It is to believe in Christ Jesus, to lay hold on the all sufficient virtue of it, to trust our souls to it, as a sufficient ransom for all our sins, to spread the covering of Christ's righteousness over all our righteousness and unrighteousness, as having both alike need to be hid from his holy eyes. Jesus Christ "came by water and by blood," (1 John v.6), by water to sanctify, and by blood to justify, by the power and cleansing virtue of the Holy Ghost, to take away sin in the being of it, and by the virtue of his blood, to take away sin in the guilt and condemnation of it.
Now, I conceive he presses a twofold exercise upon them in this washing, and both have relation to the blood of Jesus Christ, to wit repentance and faith. If they be not all one, yet they are in this point inseparably conjoined. Repentance waters and saps the roots of believing, which otherwise would dry up; therefore, instead of outward forms and ceremonies of religion, he presseth them to inward sorrow and contrition of heart for sin, that they might present an acceptable sacrifice to God, "a contrite heart." This is more pleasing than many specious duties of men without, Psal. l.7, &c. But when I press upon you repentance, do not conceive that we would have it preparatory to faith, that ye should sit down and mourn for your sins for a time, till your hearts be so far humbled, and then ye might come as prepared and fitted to Jesus Christ. This is the mistake of many Christians, which keeps them from solid settling. We find it ordinary, souls making scruples and objections against coming to Jesus Christ, because of want of such preparations, of measures of humiliation and contrition, which they prescribe to themselves, or do behold in others. And so they sit down and apply themselves to such a work, apply their consciences to the law and curse; and they find, instead of softening, hardness, instead of contrition of spirit, more dulness and security; at least they cannot get satisfaction to themselves in that they seek, and thus they hang their head over their impenitent hearts, and lament, not so much that repentance is not, as that they cannot find it in themselves. Alas! there are many diseases in this one malady. If it were embowelled unto you, ye would not believe that such a way were so contradictory to the gospel. For, first, ye who are so, have this principle in your hearts, which is the foundation of it: I cannot come to Christ so unclean, I must be a little washen ere I come, the most gross uncleanness and hardness of my heart must be taken away, and so I shall be accepted. Alas, what derogation is this to the blessed Saviour! What absurdity is it! I am too unclean to come to the fountain, I must be a little purged before I come to this fountain that cleanseth from all sin. I pray you, why was the fountain opened? Was it not for sin and uncleanness? And this thou sayest by interpretation, if I were so and so humbled, then I might come, and be worthy to come; when the want of such a measure debars thee as unworthy, doth not the having of it in thy estimation make thee worthy? And so ye come with a present in your hand to Jesus Christ, with a price and reward to him who gives freely. Again, thou deniest Christ to be the only fountain of all grace, and so it is most dishonourable to him. If thou would have repentance before thou come to him, where shalt thou have it? Wilt thou find it in thy heart, which is desperately wicked? Wilt thou seek it of God, and not seek it in the mediator Jesus Christ? God out of a mediator will not hear thee. In a word, there is both extreme sin and extreme folly in this way: great sin, because it contradicts the tenor of the gospel, it dishonours the Lord Jesus, the exalted Prince, as if he were not the fountain of all grace; it is contrary both to the freedom of his grace, and to the fulness of it also. It is great folly, for thou leavest the living fountain, and goest seeking water in a wilderness; thou leavest the garden where all herbs grow, and wanderest abroad to the wild mountains; and because thou canst not find what thou seekest, thou sittest down and weepest beside it. Repentance is in Christ, and no repentance so pleasing to God as the mournings and relentings of a pardoned sinner; but thou seekest it far from him, yea, refusest him for want of that which thou mayest have by choosing him. Therefore we declare this unto you, that whatever ye be, whatever ye want, if ye think ye stand in need of Jesus Christ, embrace him. If ye be exceeding vile in your own eyes, and cannot get repentance as ye would to cleanse yourselves, here is the fountain opened, and ready to wash in. Yet this we must tell you, that no sinner can believe but he that repents,(288) not because repentance is required as a preparation to give a man a warrant and right to believe, -- I know no ground of faith but our necessity, and the Lord's promise and command unto us, -- but because no soul can truly fly into Jesus Christ to escape sin's guilt, but he that desires to be delivered from sin itself; and therefore the most part of you fancy a faith which you have not, because there is no possibility that men will come out of themselves, till they be pressed out by discovered sin and misery within. Your woulds and wishes after Christ and salvation, that many of you have, are not the real exercises of your soul's flying unto him for salvation. If ye did indeed turn into Jesus Christ, your hearts would turn the back upon sin, and these sins ye seek remission of. Now, all the desire that many men have of Christ, is this, -- I would fain have his salvation, if I might keep my sin; I would gladly be delivered from the guilt of sin, if he would let me keep still the sin. But will Christ make any such bargain?
If this blood only wash from sin, O how many lie in their sins, and wallow in their filthiness! "There is a generation pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness," Prov. xxx.12. O that ye believed this! If ye be not now washed, eternity shall find you unclean, and woe to the soul that enters eternity with all the pollution of its sins: can such a soul enter into the high and holy place, the clean city? No, certainly; it must be without among the dogs and swine, it must be kept in darkness for ever. It is, then, of great importance that ye be washen from your filthiness. Now, I ask you, is it so or not? Are ye made clean and washen from the guilt of your sins? Every one of you almost will say so and think so; and yet says the scripture, "There is a generation pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed." Is there a generation such? Is there any such? Oh! then, think it is possible you may be mistaken in the opinion of your own cleanness. Do any conceive themselves pardoned, and yet are not so? Think it is possible you may have deceived yourselves, especially since ye have never examined it. But are there so many so, a whole generation, -- the most part of men? Then, as you love your souls, try, for it is certain that the most part of you must be deceived. Is there a generation in the visible church not washen, and yet every one thinks himself clean? Then certainly the most part are in a great delusion. Will ye then once examine whether or not ye be deluded with them? It shall be your peace to know it, while it may be amended. But how comes it to pass, that so many hearing of the gospel, and lying near this fountain, are not cleansed? I think certainly, because they will not have a thorough cleansing, they get none at all. All men would love Christ's blood well to pardon sin, but who will accept of the water to sanctify them from sin? But Christ came with both. Shall this blood be spent upon numbers of you, who have no respect to it, but would still wallow in your filthiness? Would ye have God pardoning these sins ye never throughly resolved to quit? But how is it that so many men are clean in their own eyes, and yet not washed? I think indeed, the reason of it is, they make a kind of washing, which they apprehend sufficient, and yet know not the true fountain. We find men taking much soap and nitre, when convinced of sin, or charged with it, and thereupon soon absolving themselves. If ye ask their grounds, they will tell you, they repent and are sorry for it; they purpose to make amends, and they think amendment a good compensation for the past wrong. They will, it may be, vow to drink no more for a year after they have been drunk; they will confess their sin in public, and all this they do without having any thought of Jesus Christ, or the end of his coming, and can absolve themselves from such grounds, though in the mean time Christ come not so much as in their mind; and therefore are they not really washed. All thy righteousness is unclean before God, and thy repentances defile thee: and yet because of some such duties, though deceivest thyself, and are clean in thine own eyes. These have some beauty in thy eyes, and thou puttest them between thy filthiness and thy eye, and so conceivest that thou art clean. I think a reason also, why many men are clean in their own eyes, and conceive that God hath pardoned their sin, is because they have forgotten it. It is not recent in their memory, and makes no present wound in their conscience: and therefore, they apprehend God such as themselves, -- they think he hath forgotten about it also. But oh! how terrible shall it be, when God brings to remembrance, and sets our sins in order before us! Ye think God cares not for your sins, that he forgives them before thee, and thou shalt know they are still marked before him.
Ye who have washen in this blood, ye may rejoice, for it shall make you clean every whit. Your iniquities that so defiled you, shall not be found. O the precious virtue of that blood that can purge away a soul's spots! All the art of men and angels could not reach this. This redemption and cleansing was precious, and would have ceased for ever; but this blood is the ransom, this blood cleanseth, and so perfectly, that it shall not appear, not only to men's eyes, but also God's piercing eye. Sinners, quit your own righteousness, -- why defile ye yourselves more? When your eyes are opened, ye will find it so. Here is washing; apply yourselves to this fountain; and if ye do indeed so; if ye expect cleansing from Jesus Christ, I pray you return not to the puddle. Ye are not washen from sin, to sin more, and defile yourselves more; if ye think ye have liberty to do so, ye have no part in this blood.