In the gospel we have the most perfect provision against both these extremities, that souls are ready to run upon, the rock of desperate distrust, and the quicksands of presumptuous wantonness. It may be said to be a well-ordered covenant in all things, that hath caveated and cautioned the whole matter of our salvation, in such a way, that there is neither place for discouragement and downcasting, nor yet room for liberty in sin. There is no exemption from the obligation of God's holy law, and yet there is pardon for the breach of it, and exemption from the curse. There is no peace, no capitulation with sin, and yet there is peace concluded with the sinner, who is, by that agreement, bound to fall out with sin. There is no dispensation for sin, and from the perfection of holiness, and yet there is an advocation for the sinner, who aims and studies after it. So that, in sum, the whole gospel is comprised in this, -- "he speaks peace to his saint, but let them not return to folly; thou art made whole, sin no more." All that is in the gospel saith this, "that thou shouldst sin no more." But because sin is necessarily incident, therefore all that is in the gospel speaks this further, -- though ye be surprised in sin, yet believe, and this is the round in which a believer is to walk, -- to turn from pardon to purity, and from pollution again to pardon, for these voices and sounds are interchanged continually. If ye have sinned, believe in Christ the advocate and sacrifice, and, because ye have believed, sin not, but if ye be overtaken in sin, yet believe. And as this is daily renewed, so the soul's study and endeavour in them, should be daily renewed too. If ye have sinned, despair not, if ye be pardoned, yet presume not. After sin there is hope, it is true, because "there is forgiveness with him," but after forgiveness, there must be fear to offend his goodness, for there is forgiveness with him, that he may be feared, Psal. cxxx.4 And this is the situation I would desire my soul in, -- to be placed between hope of his mercy and fear of sin, the faith of his favour and the hatred of sin, which he will not favour, and how happy were a soul to be confined within these, and kept captive to its true liberty.
I spake a little before, how those fundamental truths that are set down before, do all aim at this one mark, "that we sin not," now I proceed. That declaration what God is, verse 5, is expressly directed to this purpose and applied, verse 6 -- "God is light," and therefore "sin not," for sin is darkness, "he is light," for purity and beauty of holiness, and perfection of knowledge, -- that true light in which is no darkness, -- that unmixed light, all homogeneous to itself, -- therefore "sin not," for that is a work of the night, and of the darkness, that proceeds from the blindness and estrangement of your minds, and ignorance of your hearts, and it cannot but prepare and fit you for those everlasting chains of darkness. Call God what you will, name all his names, styles, and titles, spell all the characters of it, and still you may find it written at every one of them, "sin not." Is he light? Then sin not. Is he life? Then sin not, for sin will separate you from his light and life, sin will darken your souls and kill them. Is he love? Then sin not. "God is love," saith John, O then sin not against love! Hatred of any good thing is deformed; but the hatred of the beautiful image of the original love, that is monstrous. "God is love," and in his love is your life and light, then to sin against him is not simple disobedience, nor is it only grosser rebellion, but it hath that abominable stain of ingratitude in it. Do you read, that it is written, "he is holy?" Then sin not, for this is most repugnant to his holiness, -- "his holy eyes cannot see it." Therefore, if thou wouldst have him look upon thee with favour, thou must not look upon sin with favour, or entertain it with delight. Is it written, that he is great and powerful? -- Then sin not -- that were madness. Is it written, that he is good and gracious? Then it is written, that ye sin not, for that were wickedness, it were an unspeakable folly and madness, to offend so great a God, that can so easily avenge himself; and it were abominable perverseness, and wickedness, to sin against so good and gracious a God, who, though he may avenge himself, yet offers pardon and peace, and beseecheth us to accept it. Is he just? Then sin not, for "he will not acquit the wicked nor hold them guiltless," -- them who do acquit themselves, and yet hold by their sins. And is he merciful? Then, O then, sin not, because he hath acquitted thee, because he is ready to blot out thy guilt! Wilt thou sin against mercy that must save thee? Again, is it written, that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin? That is written, that ye sin not. It is true, it is written, because ye have sinned already, that ye may know how it may be pardoned. But, moreover, it is written, "that ye sin no more," that so more sin may be prevented, at least, deliberate continued walking in sin. So that this blood hath a twofold virtue and use, to be the greatest encouragement to a soul troubled for sin, and the chiefest argument and inducement for a soul not to sin. This medicine, or this plaster, hath two notable virtues, restorative and preservative, to restore the bones that already are broken, through falling in sin and to preserve our feet from further falling in sin. It hath a healing virtue for those bruises that are in the soul, and, besides, it is an anti-hate and sovereign preservative against the poison and infection of sin and the world. What motive is like this? The Son of God shed his blood for our sins, they cost a dear price. O how precious was the ransom! More precious than gold, and silver, and precious stones, because the redemption of the soul is so precious, that it would have ceased forever without it. Now, what soul can deliberately think of this, and receive it with any affection into the heart, but shall find the most vehement persuasion against sin? He cannot but behold the heinousness and infinite evil that is in it, which required such an infinite recompense. And can a soul on that view run to the puddle and defile again, when he sees how dearly the fountain for cleansing was purchased? Can a believing heart have such treacherous thoughts harboured within it, to crucify afresh the Lord of glory, and, as it were, to trample under feet his blood? No, certainly, he that believes in this blood cannot use it so dishonourably and basely, as it is written, that he sin not, so he reads it, and believes it, that he may not sin, as well as because he hath sinned. Many speak of this blood, and think they apply it to the cleansing of their sin past, but it is rather that they may sin with more liberty, as if the end of vomiting up a surfeit of sin were to surfeit more, and the end of washing, were nothing else but to defile again. Certainly this blood is not for such souls, -- not one word of comfort in the word, -- not one drop of hope in the blood, to those who pretend to believe in Christ's blood, and continue in sin, as fresh and lively as ever they did, nothing abated of their desires or customs. But if we confess our sins, God will forgive, say you, and this we may do at any time, and this we do daily. Nay, but saith John, this is "written that you sin not," not to encourage you to sin. It is not recorded for this end, that you may live after your own imaginations and former customs, with security and peace, upon this presumption, that pardon is easily procurable, if say, "God have mercy upon me, ere I die." Do not deceive yourselves, for it is written just for the contrary, "that you sin no more, and return no more to folly." If he had said, if we sin, though we confess yet he is just to punish us, you would then be driven to desperation, and from that to a desperate conclusion. Since we must be punished, however, let us not punish ourselves here, in mortifying our flesh, -- "let us eat and drink, for to morrow we shall die." Die we must, let us deserve it, for where there is no hope, there is no help for reformation.
But now, when there is such an unexpected proposal of grace, when God, who is free to punish us, becomes indebted by his promise to forgive our debts, we humbly submitting to him, and confessing our guiltiness, this surprisal of clemency and moderation should, yea, certainly will, overcome any heart that truly believes it, and conquer it to his love and obedience. The more easily he forgives sin, the more hardly will a believing heart be drawn to sin. You know any ingenuous spirit will more easily be conquered by kindness and condescendency, than severity and violence. These "cords of love are the bands of a man," suited to the nature of men in whom there is any sparkle of ingenuousness remaining. How often have men been engaged and overcome by clemency and goodness, who could not be conquered by force of arms? Enemies have been made friends by this means, such power is in it to knit hearts together. Augustus, when he was acquainted with the conspiracy of one of his chief minions, Cinna, whom he had made a friend of an enemy, by kindness and courtesy, takes the same way to make of a traitor a constant friend. He doth not punish him as he had done others, but calls for him, and declares unto him his vile ingratitude, that when he had given him life and liberty, he should conspire to take away his prince's life. Well, when he is confounded and astonished, and cannot open his mouth, saith Augustus, I give thee thy life again, first an open enemy, and now a traitor, yet from this day, let an inviolable friendship be bound up between us, and so it proved, for this way of dealing did totally overcome his heart, and blot out all seditious thoughts.(252) But, O how incomparably greater is his condescendency and clemency, whose person is so high and sacred, whose laws are so just and holy, and we so base and wretched, -- to pardon such infinite guilt, rebellion, and treachery, against such an infinite majesty, and that, when a soul doth but begin to blush, and be ashamed with itself, and cannot open its mouth! I say, this rare and unparalleled goodness and mercy being considered, cannot but tame and daunt the wildest and most savage natures. Wild beast are not brought into subjection and tamed, but by gentle usage. It is not fierceness and violence can cure their fierceness, but meekness and condescendency to follow their humours and soft dealing with them. As a rod is not bowed by great strength, but broken, even so those things of the promise of pardon for sin, of the grace and readiness of God to pardon upon the easiest terms, are written for this end, that our wild and undaunted natures may be tamed, and may bow and submit willingly to the yoke of his obedience, and may henceforth knit such a sacred bond of friendship and fellowship with God, as may never be broken.
But, say ye, who is he that sins not? Who can say, my heart is pure, and my way is clean? Who can say, I have no sin? And therefore that cannot be expected which you crave. Nay, but saith the apostle, "These things I write unto you, that ye sin not." Because sin is in all, therefore you excuse yourselves in your sins, and take liberty to sin. But the very contrary is the intent of the declaring unto us that we have sin, he shows that none want it, not that ye may be the more indulgent towards it, but the more watchful against it. It is not to make you secure, but rather to give you alarm. Even the best and holiest, -- it is an alarm to them, to tell them that sin is in confinus, in their very borders, that the enemy is even in their quarters, yea, in their bosom. Certainly, this should so much the more excite us against it, and arm us for it every moment, lest either by fraud or force, by secret undermining or open violence, it draw us away from God. This word, "if we say we have no sin, we lie," is a watchword given to men, a warning to enter in consideration of themselves, for the enemy being within, there is no flying from him. We carry him about with us, and being within, he is less discerned, and therefore we ought to awake, and so walk circumspectly, with eyes in our head, lest we be surprised at unawares, either in that time we know not of, or at that place we least suspect. And to others of you, who have never attained any victory over your sins, and scarce have a discerning of them, I would only say this, that the universality of sin's inhabitation, or being in all men, even the godly, will not excuse sin's domination and reign in you. It is strange, that since the holiest have need of continual watching against this bosom enemy, that ye who have both little knowledge and strength, should think ye may live securely, and not trouble yourselves. If they have need to take heed, how much more have ye, since it is but in them, but it reigns in you?