The gospel is an entire uniform piece, all the parts of it are interwoven through other, and interchangeably knit together, so that there can be no dividing of it any more than of Christ's coat that was without seam. If you have it not altogether by the divine lot, you cannot truly have any part of it, for they are so knit together, that if you disjoin them, you destroy them, and if they cease to be together, they cease altogether to be. I speak this, because there may be pretensions to some abstracted parts of Christianity. One man pretends to faith in Jesus Christ, and persuasion of pardon of sin, and in this there may be some secret glorying arising from that confidence, another may pretend to the study of holiness and obedience, and may endeavour something that way to do known duties, and abstain from gross sins. Now, I say, if the first do not conjoin the study of the second, and if the second do not lay down the first as the foundation, both of them embrace a shadow for the thing itself, because they separate those things that God hath joined, and so can have no being but in men's fancy, when they are not conjoined. He that would pretend to a righteousness of Christ, without him, must withal study to have the righteousness of the law fulfilled within him, and he that endeavours to have holiness within must withal go out of himself, to seek a righteousness without him, whereupon to build his peace and acceptance with God, or else, neither of them hath truly any righteousness without them, to cover them, or holiness within, to cleanse them. Now, here the beloved apostle shows us this divine contexture of the gospel. The great and comprehensive end and design of the gospel is, peace in pardon of sin, and purity from sin. "These things I write unto you, that you sin not," &c. The gospel is comprised in commands and promises, both make one web, and link in together. The immediate end of the command is, "that we sin not," nay, but there is another thing always either expressly added, or tacitly understood -- "but if any man sin," that desires not to sin, "we have an advocate with the Father." So the promise comes in as a subsidiary help to all the precepts. It is annexed to give security to a poor soul from despair, and therefore the apostle teacheth you a blessed art of constructing all the commands and exhortations of the gospel, those of the highest pitch, by supplying the full sense with this happy and seasonable caution or caveat, "but if any man sin," &c. Doth that command, "Be ye holy as I am holy," perfect as your heavenly Father, which sounds so much unattainable perfection, and seems to hold forth an inimitable pattern, doth it, I say, discourage thee? Then, use the apostle's art, add this caution to the command, subjoin this sweet exceptive, -- "but if any man," that desires to be holy, and gives himself to this study, fail often, and fall and defile himself with unholiness, let him not despair, but know, that he hath "an advocate with the Father." If that of Paul's urge thee, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, -- and be not conformed to the world," but transformed, and "glorify God in your bodies and spirits," which are his, (Rom. xii.1, 2, 1 Cor. vi.20,) -- and, cleanse yourselves "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit," (2 Cor. vii.1,) -- and, "walk in the Spirit," and "walk as children of the light," &c., -- if these do too rigorously exact upon thee, so as to make thee lose thy peace, and weaken thy heart and hands, learn to make out a full sentence, and fill up the full sense and meaning of the gospel, according as you see it done here. But if any man, -- whose inward heart-desires, and chief designs are toward these things, who would think himself happy in holiness and conformity to God, and estimates his blessedness or misery, from his union or separation from God, -- "sin" then "we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous," who hath all that we want, and will not suffer any accusation to fasten upon us, as long as he lives "to make intercession for us."
On the other hand, take a view of the promises of the gospel. Though the immediate and next end of them is to give peace to troubled souls, and settle us in the high point of our acceptance with God, yet certainly they have a further end, even purity from sin, as well as pardon of sin, cleansing from all sin and filthiness as well as covering of filthiness. "These things I write unto you, that ye sin not." What things? Consider what goes before, and what follows after, even the publication of the word of life, and eternal life in him, the declaration of our fellowship with God in Christ the offering of the blood of Christ, able to cleanse all sin, the promise of pardon to the penitent, confession of sin, -- all these things I write, "that ye sin not," so that this seems to be the ultimate end and chief design of the gospel, unto which all tends, unto which all work together. The promises are for peace, and peace is for purity, the promises are for faith, and faith is for purifying of the heart, and performing the precepts, so that, all at length returns to this, from whence, while we swerved, all this misery is come upon us. In the beginning it was thus, -- man was created to glorify God, by obedience to his blessed will, sin interposeth and marreth the whole frame, and from this hath a flood of misery flowed in upon us. Well, the gospel comes offering a Saviour, and forgiveness in him. Thus peace is purchased, pardon granted, the soul is restored unto its primitive condition and state of subordination to God's will, and so redemption ends where creation began, or rather in a more perfect frame of the same kind. The second Adam builds what the first Adam broke down, and the Son re-creates what the Father in the beginning created, yea, with some addition. In this new edition of mankind, all seems new -- "new heavens, and new earth," and that because the creature that was made old, and defiled with sin, is made new by grace. Now, hence you may learn the second part of this lesson that the apostle teaches us; as ye ought to correct, as it were, precepts of the gospel, by subjoining promises in this manner, so ye ought to direct promises towards the performance of his precepts, as their chief end. Whensoever you read it written, "The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin," -- "If we confess, he is faithful to forgive our sins," -- "God so loved the world that he gave his Son," -- "He that believeth hath everlasting life," &c. -- then make up the entire sense and meaning after this manner, "These things are written that we sin not." Is there a redemption from wrath published? Is there reconciliation with God preached? And are we beseeched to come and have the benefit of them? Then say, and supply within thine own heart, These things are written, published, and preached, that we may not sin. Look to the furthest end of these things, it is, "that we sin not." The end of things, the scope of writings, and the purpose of actions, is the very measure of them, and so that is the best interpreter of them. The scope of scripture is by all accounted the very thread that will lead a man right in and out of the labyrinths that are in it. And so it is used as the rule of the interpretation in the parts of it. Now, my beloved in the Lord, take here the scope of the whole scriptures, the mark that all the gospel shoots at, "These things I write unto you, that ye sin not." You hear, it is true, of pardon of sin, of delivery from wrath, of not coming into condemnation, of covering offences, of blotting them out as a cloud, all these you read and hear of, but what do they all aim at? If you consider not that attentively you shall no more understand the plain gospel, than you can expound a parable without observing the scope of it. Do you think these have no further aim, than to give you peace, and to secure you from fears and terrors, that you may then walk as you list, and follow the guiding of your own hearts? Nay, if you take it so, you totally mistake it. If you do not read on, and had all these things written to this end, "that ye sin not," you err, not understanding, or misunderstanding, the scriptures.
"These things I write unto you, little children." To enforce this the more sweetly, he useth this affectionate compellation, "little children," for in all things affection hath a mighty stroke, almost as much as reason. It is the most suitable way to prevail with the spirit of a man, to deal in love and tenderness with it, it speaks more sweetly, and so can have less resistance, and therefore works more strongly. It is true, another way of terrors threatening, and reproofs, mingled with sharp and heavy words of challenges, may make a great deal of more noise, and yet it hath not such virtue to prevail with a rational soul. The Spirit of the Lord was not in the wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still and calm voice which came to Elijah, 1 Kings xix.11, 12. These suit not the gentle, dove-like disposition of the Spirit; and though they be fit to rend rocks in pieces, yet they cannot truly break hearts, and make them contrite. The sun will make a man sooner part with his cloak than the wind, such is the difference between the warm beams of affection, and the boisterous violence of passions or terror. Now, O that there were such a spirit in them who preach the gospel, such a fatherly affection, that with much pity and compassion they might call sinners from the ways of death! O there is no subject, in which a man may have more room for melting affections, nothing that will admit of such bowels of compassion as this -- the multitude of souls posting to destruction, and so blindfolded that they cannot see it! Here the fountain of tears might be opened to run abundantly. The Lord personates a tender hearted father or husband often, "Oh, why will ye die? Ye have broken my heart with your whorish heart. O Jerusalem, how oft would I, but thou wouldst not!" When he, who is not subject to human passions, expresseth himself thus, how much more doth it become us poor creatures to have pity on our fellow-creatures? Should it not press out from us many groans, to see so many perishing, even beside salvation. I wish you would take it so, that the warning you to flee from the wrath to come, is the greatest act of favour and love that can be done to you. It becomes us to be solicitous about you, and declare unto you, that you will meet with destruction in those paths in which you walk; that these ways go down to the chambers of death. O that it might be done with so much feeling compassion of your misery, as the necessity of it requires! But, why do many of you take it so hard to be thus forewarned, and have your danger declared unto you? I guess at the reason of it. You are in a distempter as sick children distempered in a fever, who are not capable of discerning their parents' tender affection, when it crosseth their own inclinations and ways.