There are two evils in sin, -- one is the nature of it, another the fruit and sad effect of it. In itself it is filthiness, and contrary to God's holiness; an abasing of the immortal soul; a spot in the face of the Lord of the creatures, that hath far debased him under them all. Though it be so unnatural to us, yet it is now in our fallen estate become, as it were, natural, so that men agree with it, as if it were sunk and drunk into the very soul of man. The other is guilt and desert of punishment and obligation to it. All men hate this, but they cannot hold it off. They eat the tree and fruit of death, they must eat death also: they must have the wages of sin, who have wrought for it. Now, the gospel hath found a remedy for lost man in Jesus Christ; he comes in the gospel with a twofold blessing, a twofold virtue, a pardoning virtue and a sanctifying virtue, "water and blood," 1 John v.6. He comes to forgive sin, and to subdue sin; to remove the guilt of it, and then the self(289) of it. God's appointment had inseparably joined them; and Christ came not to dissolve the law, but to establish it. If he had taken away the punishment, and left the sin in its being, he had weakened the law and the prophets. That conjunction of sin and wrath, which is both by divine appointment, and suitable also unto their own natures, must stand, that divine justice may be entire; and therefore, he that comes to redeem us from the curse of the law, hath also this commission to redeem from sin and all transgressions of the law, Rom. xi.26, and Gal. iii.13. He that turns away the wrath of God from men, turns also ungodliness from them which provoked his wrath; and so he is a complete redeemer, and a complete redeemer he had not been otherwise. If he had removed wrath only, and left us under the bondage of sin, it had not been half redemption; "he that commits sin, is the servant of sin." But this is perfect freedom and liberty, to be made free from sin, for it was sin that subjected us to wrath, and so was the first tyrant and the greatest. The gospel then comes with a joyful sound unto you, but many of you mistake it, and apprehend it to be a doctrine of liberty and peace, and that unto sin; but if it were so, it were no joyful sound. If there were proclaimed a liberty to all men to do as they list, no punishment, no wrath to be feared, I would think that doctrine no glad news, it were but the perpetuating of the bondage of a reasonable soul. But this is glad news, -- a delivery and freedom proclaimed in the gospel. From what? Not unto sin, but from sin; and this is to be free indeed. We owe more to Jesus Christ for this, than for redemption from wrath, because sin is a greater evil than wrath; yea, wrath were not so, if sin were not. Therefore he exhorts to wash, and wash so that they may make clean. Take Jesus Christ for justification and sanctification, -- employ both the water and the blood that he hath come with. But because all men pretend a willingness to have Christ their Saviour, and their sins pardoned through his blood, who, notwithstanding, hate to be reformed, and would seek no more of Christ: therefore, he branches out that part of the exhortation in several particulars. All men have a general liking of remission of sins, but renouncing of it is to many a hard doctrine. They would be glad that God put their evils out of his sight, by passing them by, and forgetting them; but they will not be at the pains of putting away their evils from his sight; and therefore, the gospel which comprehends these two united, is not really received by many, who pretend to be followers of it. This is his command, that ye believe. Some pretend to obey this, and yet have no regard of that other part of his will, even their sanctification; and therefore their faith is dead, it is a fancy. If ye did indeed believe and receive Christ for pardon of sin, it were not possible but your souls would be engaged and constrained to endeavour to walk in all well-pleasing. But it is an evident token of one that is not washed from his sin, and believes not in Christ, if he conceive within his heart a greater latitude and liberty to walk after the flesh, and be emboldened to continue in sin, because of his grace and mercy; and yet such are the most part of you. Upon what ground do you delay repentance? Upon what presumption do ye continue in your sins, and put over the serious study of holiness, till a more fit time? Is it not from an apprehension of the grace and mercy of God, that ye think ye may return any time and be accepted, and so ye may in the meantime take as much pleasure in sin as you can, seeing ye may get leave also for God's mercy? I pray you consider, that you have never apprehended God's mercy aright, ye are yet in your sins, and certainly as yet are not washed from them.
"Put away the evil," &c. When the Spirit convinces a soul, he convinces a man not only of evil doings but of the evil of his doings; not only of sin, but of the sinfulness of sin; and not only of those actions which are in themselves sinful, but also of the iniquity of holy things. I think no man will come to wash in Christ's blood, till this be discovered. If he see much wickedness, many evil doings, yet he will labour to wash away these by his own tears, and repentance, and well-doing. As long as he hath any good actions, as prayers, fasting, and such like, he will cover his evil doings by them; he will spread the skirts of such righteousness over his uncleanness; and when he hath hid it from his own eyes, he apprehends that he hath hid it from God's also. He will wash his bloody hands with many prayers, and thinks they may be clean enough. We see blasphemers of God's name use to join a prayer for forgiveness with their oath and curse, and they never trouble themselves more. O what mocking of God is this! Now, as long as it is thus, there is no employment for the Son of God's blood; they can do their own turn. Men will not come to Christ, because it is the best way, if they see any else beside. None will come till they see it is the only way; none can wash in Christ, except they wash all. If ye have any thing that needs not washing, his blood is not for you; his righteousness is not known, when ye establish all, or a part of your own. I fear the most part of you have no employment for Christ; ye have extreme need of him, but ye know it not, for there are many things which ye will not number among your sins, -- your prayers, your hearing, reading, singing, public and private worship, giving alms, &c. How many of you were never convinced of any sin in these! Do ye not conceive God is well-pleased with you for them? Your conscience hath convinced you, it may he, of gross sins, as drunkenness, filthiness, swearing, &c. But ye are not convinced for your well doing, ye find not a necessity of a Mediator for these. I think many of you never confessed any such thing, except in a general notion. Alas, how ignorant are men of themselves! We are unclean, how can any thing we do cleanse us? Are not we unclean, and do not our hands touch our own works? Shall not then our own uncleanness defile our good actions, more than they can cleanse us? Hag. ii.13. The ignorance of this makes men go about to build up their old ruined righteousness, and still seek something in themselves, to make up wants in themselves. Always, when the light of God hath discovered you to yourselves, so that ye can turn your eye nowhere, but uncleanness fills it, though your conversation be blameless in the world, so as men can challenge nothing yet ye have found within and without nothing, but matter of mourning, I say, this is an evidence that the Spirit hath sinned and enlightened thy darkness. Now, when thou hast fled unto Jesus Christ for a covering to thy righteousness, as well as unrighteousness, it remains that thou now put away the evil of thy doings, -- put not away thy doings, but the evil of them. We challenge your prayers, services, and public duties, even as the prophet did we declare unto you that God is as ill pleased with them, as your drunkenness, whoring, intemperance, &c. The most part of you are no more acceptable when ye come to the church, than when ye go to the tavern, -- your praying and cursing is almost all one. What shall we do then, say ye? Shalt we pray no more, and hear no more? No, say I, put not away your prayers and ordinances, but put away the evil of them from before his sight. Rather multiply your doings, but destroy the evil and iniquity of your doings. And there is one evil or two above all, that makes them hateful to him: ye trust too much in them. Here is the iniquity, the idol of jealousy set up: ye make your doings your righteousness, and in that notion they are abomination. There is nothing makes your worship of God so hateful as this, ye think so much of it, and justify yourself by it, and then God knows what it is that ye so magnify, and make the ground of your claim to salvation. It is even an empty ceremony, a shadow without substance, a body without a soul. You speak and look and hear, you exercise some outward senses but no inward affection, and what should that be to him, who is a Spirit?
They did not observe the iniquity of their holy things, and therefore are they marked by him -- they are in his sight. They did not see so many faults in their prayers and services, they wondered why God did chide them so much, but God marks what we miss, he remembers when we forget. We cover ourselves with a wall of external duties, and think to hide all the rottenness of our hearts, but it will not be hid from him, before whom hell hath no covering. All hearts are open and naked before him. Your secret sins are in the light of his countenance. Men hear you pray, see you present at worship, they know no more, at least they see no more, nay, but the formality of thy worship, the wanderings of thy mind are in his sight. And, O how excellent a rule of walking were this, to do all in his sight and presence! O that ye were persuaded in your hearts of his all seeing, all searching eye, and all knowing mind! Would ye not be more solicitous and anxious anent the frame of your hearts, than the liberty of your speech or external gesture? O how would men retire within themselves, to fashion their spirits before this all searching and all knowing Spirit! If ye do not observe the evils of your hearts and ways, they are in his sight, and this will spoil all acceptance of the good of them. If ye observe the evils of your well doing, and bring these also to the fountain to wash them, and be about this earnest endeavour of perfecting holiness, of perfecting well doings in the power and fear of God, then certainly he will not set your sins in the light of his countenance, the good of your way shall come before him, and the evil of it Christ shall take away.
"Cease to do evil," &c. These are the two legs a Christian walks on, if he want any of them, he is lame and cannot go equally, -- ceasing from evil, and doing good, nay, they are so united, that the one cannot subsist without the other. If a man do not cease from evil and his former lusts, he cannot do well, or perfect holiness. There are many different dispositions and conditions of men, there are generally one of two. Some have a kind of abstinence from many gross sins and are called civil honest men, -- they can abide an inquest and censure of all their neighbours, they can say no ill of them. But alas, there is as little good to be said; he drinks not, swears not, whores not, steals not. Nay, but what doth he well? Alas, the world cannot tell what he doth, for he prays not in secret, nor in his family, -- he is void of some offences towards men, but there are many duties called to, towards both God and men, he is a stranger to. He oppresses not the poor, nay, but he is not charitable either to give to them, he defrauds no man, but whom helps he by his means? Again, there are others, they will boast of some things done, they pray, they keep the church well, they do many good turns, and yet for all that, they do not cease to do evil. They were drunkards, so they are, they can swear for all their prayers, are given to contention, to lying, to filthiness, &c. Now, I say, neither of these religions is pure and undefiled. Religion is a thorough and entire change, it is like a new creation, that must destroy the first subject, to get place for that which is to come. It is a putting off old garments, to put on new, the putting off an old form and engraven image, to make place for a new engraving. Men do not put a seal above a seal, but deface the old, and so put on the new, men do not put new clothes upon the old, but put the old off, and so they have place for the new. Religion must have a naked man. Godliness is a new suit, that will not go on upon so many lusts, no, no, it is more meet and more conformed unto the inwards of the soul than so. The cold must go out as the heat comes in. Many men do not change their garments, but mend them, put some new pieces unto them. They retain their old lusts, their heart idols, and they will add unto these a patch of some external obedience, but alas, is this godliness? Hypocrisy will be content of a mixture, -- sin is the harlot, whose heart could endure to see the child parted. It can give God a part, to get leave to brook the most part; sin will give God liberty to take some of the outward man, if it keep the heart and soul. But God will not reckon on these terms, he will have all the man or nothing, for he is the righteous owner. True godliness cannot mix so, but false and counterfeit may do it well. Other men, again, possibly unclothe themselves of some practices, but they put on new clothing, they reform some passages for fear of censure, or shame, or such like. They are found, it may be, blameless, either because so educated, or their disposition is against particular gross sins, but they are not clothed upon with holiness and well doing, and so they are but naked and bare in God's sight, not beautiful. They have swept their house, and some devil put out or kept out, but because the good Spirit enters not, ordinarily seven worse enter again into such men.
There is a great moment(290) of persuasion in this order of the exhortation, "Wash you," and then, "put away the evil of your doings," and "cease to do evil." Do not continue in your former customs. It is strange, how contrary our hearts are to God, we use to turn grace unto wantonness, we use to take more liberty to sin, when we conceive we are pardoned. But I do not know any more strong and constraining persuasion to forsake sin, than the consideration of the forgiving of it might yield. O what an inducement and grand argument to renouncing of evils, is the consideration of the remission of them! This is even that ye are now called unto, who have fled to Jesus to escape wrath what should ye be taken up with, in all the world but this, -- to live to him henceforth, who died for us, -- to forsake our own old way, and that from the constraining principle of love to him, 2 Cor. v.14, 15. O that ye would enforce your own hearts with such a thought, when there are any solicitations to sin, to former lusts! Should I, that am dead to sin, live any longer therein? Rom. vi.2. Should I who am washed from such pollutions, return again to the pollutions of the world? Should I again defile myself, who am cleansed by so precious blood, and forget him that washed me? Should I return with the dog to the vomit, and with the sow to the puddle? God forbid I pray you consider. If you be Christians indeed, give a proof of it. What hath Jesus Christ done for you? He hath given himself, his own precious blood, a ransom for us, will ye not give up yourselves to him? Will not ye give him your sins and lusts, which are not yourself, but enemies to yourself? Will not ye put away these ills, that he came into this world to destroy? Art thou a Christian, and are there yet so many sins, and works of the devil reigning in thee, and set up in God's sight?
What an inconsistency is this! If thou be his follower, thou must put these away. Give them a bill of divorcement, never to turn again. Many a man parts with his sin, because it leaves him, he puts it not away, temptation goes, and occasion goes away, but the root of it abides within him. Many men have particular jars with their corruptions, but they reconcile again, as differences between married persons. They do not arise(291) to hate their sin in its sinful nature. But if thou hate it, then put it away. And who would not hate that which Christ so hated, that he came to destroy it? 1 John iii.5. What a great indignity must it be to the gospel, to make that the ground of living in sin, which is pressed, in it, as the grand persuasion to forsake it? Seeing we are washed from the guilt of it, O let us not love to keep the stain and filth of it! Why are we washen? Was it not Christ's great intendment and purpose, to purify to himself a holy people? We are washen from the guilt of our sins, and is it to defile again? Is it not rather to keep ourselves henceforth clean, that we may be presented holy and unblameable in his sight, -- that we may seek to be as like heaven as may be. But who ceases to do these evils, that he says are pardoned? Who puts away the evil of these doings, the guilt whereof he thinks God hath put away? Could ye find in your hearts to entertain those evils so familiarly, to pour out your souls unto them, if that peace of God were indeed spoken unto you? Would not the reflex of his love prove more constraining on your hearts? Were it possible, that if ye did indeed consider, that your lusts cost Christ a dear price to shed his blood, that your pleasures made his soul heavy to death, and that he hath laid down his life to ransom you from hell, were it possible, I say, that ye would live still in these lusts, and choose these pleasures of sin, which were so bitter to our Lord Jesus? I beseech you be not deceived, -- if ye love the puddle still, that ye cannot live out of it, do not say that ye are washed. Ye may have washen yourselves with soap and nitre, but the blood of Christ hath not cleansed; for, if that blood sprinkled your conscience once, to give you an answer to all challenges, it could not but send forth streams to purify the heart, and so the whole man. The blood and water might be joined, the justifying Saviour, and the sanctifying Spirit, for both these are in this gospel washing, 1 Cor vi.11, 1 John v.6. "This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ, not by water only, but by water and blood." Not by water only, but by blood also, and I say, not by blood only, but by water also. The very purpose of forgiveness is not to lay a foundation for more sin, but that men may sin no more, but break off their sins. It is indeed impossible for a man to amend his ways, till he be pardoned, for his sin stands betwixt him and God. God is a consuming fire -- the guilt of it hinders all meeting of the soul with God, at least all influence from him. But when an open door is made in Christ, that men may come and treat with God, notwithstanding of rebellions, and have the curse relaxed, O how may he go about his duty comfortably! Am I escaped from hell, why should I any more walk in the way to it? And now he hath the Spirit given for the asking. There are some cessations from sin, that are not real forsakings of it, and ceasings from it. You know men will abstain from eating for a season, that they may be made ripe for it at another time. Some do not cease from sin, but delay it only, they put it not away, but put it off only for another time, till a fitter occasion and opportunity. And this is so far from ceasing from it, that it is rather a deliberate choice of it, and election of conveniency for it. There may be some pure and simple ceasings from sin, mere abstinence, or rather mere absence of sin for a season, that is not ceasing from doing evil. The Christian's ceasing hath much action in it. It is such a ceasing from doing evil, that it is a putting away of evil, it hath a soul and spirit joined in that cessation. Sin requires violence to put it out where it hath haunted, -- it is an intruding guest, and a usurping guest. It comes in first as a supplicant and beggar, prays for a little lodging for a night, and promises to be gone. The temptation speaks but for a little time, even the present time, for a little one, -- it seeks but little at first, lest it be denied, but if once it be received into the soul, it presently becomes master, and can command its own time, and its abode. Then ye will not so easily put it out as ye could hold it out, for it is now joined with that wicked, desperate party within you, the heart, and these united forces are too strong for you. According as a lust is one with a man's heart, or hath nearer connection with his heart and soul, it is the worse to put away: for, will ye drive a man from himself? It is the cutting off a right hand, or plucking out of a right eye. To make a man cease from such evils, requires that a stronger power be within him than is in the world. Men may cease for a time, for want of occasions or temptations to sin, when there is no active principle in them, restraining or keeping their souls from such sins as appear after, when no sooner is occasion offered, but they run as the horse to his course, or the stone falleth downward, -- they receive fire as easily as dry stubble. That is not Christian ceasing, which is that which the soul argues itself into, from grounds of the gospel. Should I, who am dead to sin, live any longer therein? This is a principle of cessation, and this is true liberty, -- when the soul can abstain from present temptations upon such grounds and persuasions of the gospel, then it is really above itself and above the world, then hath it that true victory. Many men cease only from sin, because sin ceases from them, they have not left it, but it hath left them. The old man thinks himself a changed man, because he wallows not in the lusts of the flesh, as in his youth. But, alas! no thanks to him for that, he hath not ceased from his lusts. But temptations to him, or power and ability in him to follow them hath ceased, -- there is no change in his spirit within, for he can talk of his former sins with pleasure, he continues in other evils as bad, but more suitable to his age. In a word, he is so inwardly, that if he were in his body, and occasions offering as before, he would be just the same. Some, again, cease from some evils, from some principles, but, alas! they are no Christian principles. What restrains the multitude of civilians from gross scandals? Is it any thing but affectation of a good name and report in the world? Is it not fear of reproach or censure? Is it not because possibly they have no particular inclination to such evils? And yet there are many other evils of the heart as evil though more subtile, that they please themselves in, as pride, covetousness, malice, envy, ambition, &c. What shall all your abstinence be accounted of, when it is not love to Jesus Christ, or hatred of sin, that principles it? It is not the outward abstinence that will commend you such it is, as the principles of it are. And these only are the true Christian principles of mortification, -- love of Jesus Christ, which constrains men to live no more to themselves, but to be new creatures, 2 Cor. v.14, 15; and hatred of sin in its nature as sin a Christian should have a mortal hatred of it, as his mortal enemy. It is not Christianity to abstain from some fleshly lusts, if ye consider them not as your soul's enemies, 1 Peter ii.11. "Ye that love the Lord hate evil," Psal. xcvii.10. These are chained together. David's hatred was a soul-hatred, an abhorrency, Psal. cxix.163, "I hate and abhor lying." It is like the natural antipathies that are among creatures, the soul hates not only the person of it, but the nature of it also. Men often hate sin, only as it is circumstantiate, but Christian hatred is a hatred of the nature, like the deadly feuds, which are enmities against the kind and name. "I will put enmity between thy seed," &c. It is a "perfect hatred," Psal. cxxxix.22. And so it cannot endure any sin, because all is contrary to God's holiness and offensive to his Spirit. I would think it easier to forsake all evil, and cease from doing any evil, I mean, presumptuously, with a willing mind and endeavour, than indeed to forsake one, for as long as ye entertain so many lusts like it, they shall make way for it. It were easier to keep the whole commandments in an evangelical sense, than indeed to keep any one, for all of them help another, and subsist they cannot one without another, so that ye take a foolish course, who go about particular reformations. Ye scandalous sinners profess that ye will amend the particular fault ye are guilty of, and, in the mean time, you take no heed to your souls and lives, therefore it shall be either in vain, or not acceptable. How pleasant a life would Christians have, if they would indeed be persuaded to be altogether Christians! The halving of it neither pleaseth God nor delights you, it keeps you but in continual torment between God and Baal. Your own lusts usurp over you, and that of Christ in you challenges the supremacy, so ye are as men under two masters, each striving for the place, and were it not better to be under one settled government? If there be any tenderness of God in your hearts, or light in your consciences, they cannot but testify against your lusts, these strange lords. Your lusts, again, they drive you on against your conscience; thus ye are divided and tormented betwixt two, -- your own conscience and affections. You have thus the pain of religion, and know not the true pleasure of it. You are marred in the pleasures of sin, conscience and the love of God is a worm to eat that gourd. It is gall and vinegar mixed in with them. Were it not more wisdom to be either one thing or another? If ye will have the pleasures of sin for a season, take them wholly, and renounce God, and see if your heart can endure that. If your heart cannot condescend to that, I pray you renounce them wholly, and ye shall find more exquisite and sure pleasures in godliness, at his right hand. O what a noble entertainment hath the soul in God; the peace and joy of the Holy Ghost is a kingdom indeed!