There is here a sad supposition, but too certain, that any man may sin, yea, that all men will sin, even those who have most communion with God, and interest in the blood of Christ. Yet they are not altogether exempted from this fatal lot of mankind. It is incident even to them to sin, and too frequently incident, but yet we have a happy and sweet provision, for indemnity from the hazard of sin, -- "we have an advocate with the Father." Grant the probability, yea, the necessity and certainty of that supposal, "if any man do sin," yet there is as much certainty of indemnity from sin, as of necessity of falling into sin. It is not more sure, that we shall carry about with us matter of sorrow and mourning, but that it is as sure, that we have always without us matter of rejoicing.
Let me then speak a word to these particulars. First, That sin is incident to the best, even after all persuasions, convictions, resolutions, desires, and designs to avoid sin. Next, That it is usual for sins after mercy, convictions, and resolution, to appear so heinous, that they may seem to overtop the mercy of God, and the merits of Christ, a soul is most apt to be troubled with guilt contracted after pardon, and a desire of purity. But withal I would, in the Last place represent to you, that there is no ground of despair or discouragement for such an one though there be ground of humiliation and mourning. There is a provision made in the gospel against these continually incident fears, there is a security against the hazard of surprising sins, and, this comfort belongs only to such souls as unfeignedly desire not to sin, and are in some measure persuaded by the grace of God not to sin, not to those who willingly give themselves up to their own lusts. It is as common a doctrine as any, that sin hath some lodging in every man's heart and flesh, and is not totally cast out, but only bound with chains within, that it do not exercise its old dominion over a believer. But I fear, the most common truths, though they be most substantial in themselves, are yet but circumstantial in our apprehensions, and very rarely and extraordinarily have place in the deeper and more serious thoughts of our hearts. They are commonly confessed, it is true, but as seldom considered, I am sure. For who did truly ponder the inclineableness of our nature to sin, the strong propension of the heart to evil, the deceitfulness of sin itself, and the many circumstantial helps and additions it gets to its strength, but would stand in awe, and watch seriously over himself. I dare say, many sin, rather because of a misapprehended immunity from it and a misreckoning of their own measure and strength, than because of the strength of sin itself. I know no one thing makes sin so strong as this, -- that we do not apprehend our own weakness, and so give over watchfulness, which is the greatest and best part of our armour of defence, when it is done in faith, and this watch kept on the tower of the Lord's promises. The apprehension of our escaping the pollutions of the world, and of some strength to resist them; this adds no more strength to us, but diminisheth and taketh from our vigilance and so exposeth us, as it were, naked and secure, to the cruelty of our adversary. I would wish every Christian to be thoroughly acquainted, and often conversant in two books of sophistry, I may so term them -- the deceitfulness of his own heart, and the deceivableness of sin, Jer. xvii. and Heb. iii.13. These are the volumes he would daily turn over to learn to discern the sophistications, self flatteries, blindness, darkness, and self love of his own heart, to take off the deceiving mask of pretences and appearances of good, and behold sensibly the true and real inclinations of the heart to wickedness, to passion, pride, uncleanness, malice, envy, and all those affections of the flesh, -- to find out the true beating of the pulse of the heart. And indeed this just discerning and discovery of the thief in the soul, is a great part of his arraignment, for if sin be under the view of an eye that hates it, and loves God, much of its power and virtue, which be in darkness, is taken away. I press this the more because I verily apprehend it to be the plague of many Christians, who have some general insight into the matter of good and evil, and espy some more gross corruption in themselves, and have some affection to good. Yet this estrangedness to our own hearts, and the vein or strain of them, the not unbowelling of our hidden affections, and not discerning of the poison of pride, self love, love of the world, and such like lusts, which are intermingled in all that we do, and spread, as it were, universally through the whole man, this, I say, makes most of us to be subject to so many surprisals by sin. We are often routed before we draw up, and often conquered ere we consider. This makes us such unproficients in mortification, so that scarce any sin is killed, while the roots of all sin lie hid under the ground from us. Then withal, I desire you to study how deceivable a thing sin is, -- how many deceitful fair pretences it is covered with. It hath the voice of Jacob, but the hands of Esau. Look, what it is that is pleasant or suitable to our natural spirits, -- it insinuates itself always under the shadow of that, and if there be not much heedfulness and attention, and much experience of the wiles of that subtile one, it is a great hazard to be catched with it unadvisedly, while we clasp about another thing which is presented as a bait and allurement. Now, is it any wonder that a poor soul be drawn to sin often, when our enemy doth not for the most part profess hostility, but friendship, and under that colour pleads admission within our ports? And, besides, we have a treacherous friend in our bosom, that betrays us into his hands, that is, our own deceitful hearts. These things I mention to put you in remembrance of what condition you are in, in this world, and what posture you should be in. Watch, I say, and when ye have done all, stand with your loins girt, and though you cannot possibly escape all sin, yet certainly it is not in vain thus to set against it, and keep a watch over it, for by this means you shall escape more sin and sin less, as he that aims at the mark, though he do not hit it, yet shall ordinarily come nearer it, than he that shoots only at random, and as the army that is most vigilant and watchful, though they cannot prevent all losses and hazards, yet commonly are not found at such a loss, as those who are proud, confident, and secure.
Now, as it is supposed, that sin is ordinarily incident to the child of God, so it is especially to be caveated, that he despair not in his sins, for it is imported in this provision, that the believer is in great hazard upon new lapses into sin, either of daily incursion, or of a grosser nature, to be discouraged. As there is so much corruption in any man's heart, as will turn the grace of God into wantonness, and incline him upon the proposal of free grace to presume to take liberty to the flesh, so that same corruption, upon another occasion, works another way, upon the supposal of new sins, aggravated with preceding mercy and grace in God, and convictions and resolutions in him, to drive him into despondency and dejection of spirit, as if there were no pardon for such sins. And indeed, it is no wonder if the soul be thus set upon, if we set aside the consideration of the infinite grace of God, that far surpasseth the ill deserts of men. To speak of the very nature of the thing itself, there is no sin in its own nature more unpardonable than sin after pardon; nothing so heinous, aggravated with so many high circumstances, which mingleth it with the worst ingredients, as this sin, after so much grace revealed in the gospel, to the end that we may not sin. Sins washed so freely, in so precious a fountain, and yet to defile again, sins forgiven so readily and easily, the debt whereof, in justice, the whole creation was not able to pay, and yet to offend so gracious a Father, a soul being thoroughly convinced of the vanity, folly, and madness of sin, of the deceitfulness and baseness of its pleasures, and set in a posture against it, as the most deadly enemy; and yet, after all this, to be foiled, deceived, and insnared -- here, I say, are very piercing considerations, which cannot but set the challenge very deep into the heart of a Christian and wound him sore. How will he be filled with shame and confusion of face if he look upon God, every look or beam of whose countenance represents unto the soul the vilest and most abominable visage of sin! Or if he look into himself, there is nothing but self condemning there. He finds his own conscience staring him as a thousand witnesses. Thus the soul of a believer being environed, he is ready to apprehend, that though God should have pardoned the sins of his ignorance yet that there is more difficulty in this, -- to pardon his returnings to folly, and therefore are some put to harder exercise, and greater terrors, after conversion, than in the time of it. The sins of ignorance being, as it were, removed as a cloud, and scored out in a heap, but the sins of knowledge after mercy, lying more distinctly and clearly in the view of the soul, it is more difficult to blot them out of the conscience, and sprinkle the heart from an evil conscience. These things I speak to you for this reason, that you may be afraid to sin. I suppose that there is no hazard of eternal damnation by sin. Grant that you know beforehand, that if you sin, there is yet forgiveness with him, and there is no hazard of perishing by it, yet, sure I am, it is the most foolish adventure in the world, to take liberty on that account, for though there be indemnity that way, as to thy eternal estate, yet I am persuaded, that there is more damage another way, in thy spiritual estate in this world, than all the gains of sin can countervail. There is a necessary loss of peace and joy, and communion of the Holy Ghost. It is inevitable, in the very ordinary and natural course and connection of things, but that sin, that way indulged, will eclipse thy soul, and bring some darkness of sorrow and horror over it. To speak after the manner of man, and in the way of reason itself, the entertainment of that which God hates will deprive thee of more solid joy and sweetness in him, than all the pleasures of sin could afford. Therefore I dare not say to you, as one too unadvisedly expresseth it, "Fear not, though you do sin, of any hurt that can come by these sins, for if you sin it shall do you no hurt at all."(253) I say, this were indeed but to make you too bold with sin. I had rather represent unto you, that though ye be secured in your eternal estate, and there can come no condemnation that way, yet there is much hurt comes by sin, even in this world, and sure, I think it a very rational and Christian inducement, to prevail with a Christian not to sin, to tell him that he shall make a foolish bargain by it, for he shall lose much more than he can gain. Is there no hurt or loss incident to men, but eternal perdition? Nay, my beloved, there is a loss Christians may sustain by sinning freely, which all the combined advantages of sin cannot compensate. Is not one hour's communion with God, are not the peace of your own consciences, and the joy of the Spirit, such inestimable jewels, that it were more suitable for a man to sell the world, and buy them, than to sell them, and buy a poor momentary trifling contentment, which hath a sting in the tail of it, and leaves nothing but vexation after it? O these bruises in David's bones, these breaches in his spirit, that loss of the joy of his salvation! Let these teach you who are escaped the great hurt of sin, to fear, at least, to be hurt by it this way, more than ever you can expect to be helped by it.
But then, I desire to add this in the third place, that there is provision made against the discouragement of those souls that desire not to sin, and yet sin against their desire. If the challenge I spoke of be written in thy conscience, as it were with the point of a diamond, deeply engraven, yet my beloved, consider, that "if any man sin, we have an advocate," &c. There is an express caution against thy discouragement. Certainly our Saviour hath provided for it. Since the case is so incident, and the supposition so ordinary, it is not conceivable that he hath not caveated and secured thy salvation in such cases, for he knew certainly before he pardoned thee, and visited thee at first, that thou wast to be subject unto this necessary burden of sin, and that it would often times molest and trouble you, and sometimes prevail over you. All this he knew, that when he should order your forces, and draw out against sin, with the greatest desire and resolution, that yet you might be foiled unexpectedly, and this was not unknown to him, when he showed mercy at first. Therefore, since his love is unchangeable, and his wisdom, being infinite, saith it should be so, he would never have cast his love on such persons, if these things, which were then before him, could make him change. Now, I grant there is more wonder in the pardon of following sins, than in the first pardon, and therefore you should still love more, and praise more. But what is this wonder to the wonder of his grace? It is swallowed up in that higher wonder, for his thoughts and ways are not like ours, his voice is, "Return, thou backsliding sinner, to thy first husband, though thou hast played the harlot." Therefore, I desire that whatsoever be presented in that kind, to aggravate your sins, let it humble you more indeed, and make you hate sin, but let it not hinder you to think as highly of his mercy and grace, and to set that in the heavens above it.