All things in Christianity have a near and strait conjunction. It is so entire and absolute a piece, that if one link be loosed all the chain falls to the ground, and if one be well fastened upon the heart it brings all alongst with it. Some speak of all truths, even in nature, that they are knit so together that any truth may be concluded out of every truth, at least by a long circuit of deduction and reasoning. But whatsoever be of that, certainly religion is a more entire thing, and all the parts of it more nearly conjoined together, that they may mutually enforce one another. Precepts and promises are thus linked together, that if any soul lay hold, indeed, upon any promise of grace, he draws alongst with it the obligation of some precept to walk suitable to such precious promises. There is no encouragement you can indeed fasten upon, but it will join you as nearly to the commandment; and no consolation in the gospel, that doth not carry within its bosom an exhortation to holy walking. Again, on the other hand, there is no precept but it should lead you straightway to a promise; no exhortation, but it is environed before and behind with a strong consolation, to make it pierce the deeper, and go down the sweeter. Therefore, you see how easily the apostle digresseth from the one to the other, -- how sweetly and pertinently these are interwoven in his discourse. The first word of the chapter is a word of strong consolation, "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ," and this like a flood carries all down with it, -- all precepts and exhortations, and the soul of a believer with them; and, therefore, he subjoins an exhortation to holy and spiritual walking upon that very ground. And because commandments of this nature will not float (so to speak) unless they have much water of that kind, and cannot have such a swift course except the tide of such encouragements flow fast, therefore he openeth that spring again in the preceding words, and letteth the rivers of consolation flow forth, even the hope of immortality and eternal life; and this certainly will raise up a soul that was on ground, and carry him above in motion of obedience; and, therefore, he may well, in the next place, stir them up to their duty, and mind them of their obligation. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh." To make this the more effectual, he drops it in with affection, in a sweet compilation of love and equality, brethren. There is nothing so powerful in persuasion as love; it will sweeten a bitter and unpleasant reproof, and make it go down more easily though it maketh less noise than threatenings and severity and authority; yet it is more forcible, for it insinuates itself, and in a manner surpriseth the soul, and so preventeth all resistance. As when the sun made the traveller part with his cloak,(207) whereas the wind and rain made him hold it faster; so affection will prevail where authority and terror cannot; it will melt that which a stronger power cannot break. The story of Elijah, 1 Kings xix. may give some representation of this. The Lord was not in the strong wind, nor in the terrible earthquake, nor yet in the fire, but in the calm still voice. The Lord hath chosen this way of publishing his grace in the gospel, because the sum of it is love to sinners, and good will towards men. He holds it forth in the calm voice of love, and those who are his ambassadors should be clothed with such an affection, if they intend to prevail with men, to engage their affections. O! that we were possessed with that brotherly love one towards another for the salvation one of another; especially, that the preachers of the gospel might be thus kindly affectioned towards others, and that you would take it thus, the calling you off the ways of sin as an act of the greatest love. But then consider the equality of this obligation, for there is nothing pressed upon you but what lieth as heavily upon them that presseth it. This debt binds all. O! that the ministers of the gospel could carry the impression of this on their hearts, that when they persuade others they may withal persuade themselves, and when they speak to others they may sit down among the hearers. If an apostle of so eminent dignity levelleth himself in this consideration, "therefore, brethren, we are debtors," -- how much more ought pastors and teachers to come in the same rank and degree of debt and obligation with others. Truly this is the great obstruction of the success of the gospel, that those who bind on burdens on others do not themselves touch them with one of their fingers, and while they seem serious in persuading others, yet withal declare by their carriage that they do not believe themselves what they bear upon others, so that preaching seemeth to be an imposture, and affections in persuading of others to be borrowed, as it were, in a scene, to be laid down again out of it. But then again, there is a misconceit among people that this holy and spiritual walking is not of common obligation, but peculiar to the preachers of the gospel. Many make their reckoning so, as if they were not called to such high aims and great endeavours. But truly, my beloved, this is a thing of common concernment. The Holy Ghost hath levelled us all in this point of duty, as he hath equally exalted all in the most substantial dignities and privileges of the gospel. This bond is upon the highest and upon the lowest. Greatness doth not exempt from it, and meanness doth not exclude from it. Though commonly great persons fancy an immunity from the strictness of a holy conservation because of their greatness, and often mean and low persons pretend a freedom from such a high obligation because of their lowness, yet certainly all are debt bound this way, and must one day give account. You that are poor and unlearned, and have not received great things of that nature from God, do not think yourselves free, do not absolve yourselves, for there is infinite debt besides. You will have no place for that excuse, that you had not great parts, were not learned, and so forth. For as the obligation reaches you all, so there is as patent a way to the exercise of religion in the poorest cottage as in the highest palace. You may serve God as acceptably in little, as others may do in much. There is no condition so low and abject that layeth any restraint on this noble service and employment. This jewel loses not its beauty and virtue, when it lieth in a dunghill more than when it is set in gold.
But let us inquire further into this debt. "We are debtors," saith he, and he instanceth what is not the creditor, by which he giveth us to understand who is the true creditor, not the flesh, and, therefore, to make out the just opposition, it must be the Spirit. We are debtors, then, to the Spirit. And what is the debt we owe to him? We may know it that same way, we owe not to the flesh so much as to make us live after its guidance and direction, and fulfil its lusts. Then, by due consequence, we owe so much to the Spirit, as that we should live after the Spirit, and resign ourselves wholly to him, his guidance and direction. There is a twofold kind of debt upon the creature, one remissible and pardonable, another irremissible and unpardonable, (so to speak,) the debt of sin, and that is the guilt of it, which is nothing else than the obligation of the sinner over to eternal condemnation by virtue of the curse of God. Every sinner cometh under this debt to divine justice, the desert of eternal wrath, and the actual ordination by a divine sentence to that wrath. Now, indeed, this debt was insoluble to us, and utterly unpayable until God sent his Son to be our cautioner, and he hath paid the debt in his own person, by bearing our curse, and so made it pardonable to sinners, obtained a relaxation from that woful obligation to death. And this debt, you see, is wholly discharged to them that are in Christ, by another sentence repealing the former curse, -- ver.1 "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ." But there is another debt, which I may call a debt of duty and obedience, which, as it was antecedent to sin, even binding innocent Adam, so the obligation of the debt of sin hath been so far from taking it away that it is rather increased exceedingly, and this debt is unpardonable and indispensable. The more of the debt of sin be pardoned, and the more the curse be dispensed with, the more the sinner owes of love and obedience to God. "She loved much, because much was forgiven," -- and the more was forgiven of sin the more she owed of love, and the more debt was discharged the more she was indebted to him. And, therefore, after this general acquittance of all believers, ver.1, he presseth this obligation the more strongly. "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors." It is like that debt spoken of, Rom. xiii., "Owe no man any thing, but love one another," which is not meant that it is unlawful to be debtors to men, but rather, what ye owe, or all things else, pay it, and ye are free. Your debt ceases and your bond is cancelled. But as for the debt of love and benevolence, you must so owe that to all men, as never to be discharged of it, never to be freed from it. When you have done all this hath no limitation of time or action, even so it is here. Other debts when paid, men cease to be debtors, then they are free, but here the more he pays the more he is bound to pay, -- he oweth, and he oweth eternally. His bond is never cancelled as long as he continues a creature subsisting in God, and abides a redeemed one in Christ. For these continuing, his obligation is eternally recent and fresh as the first day. And this doth not at all obscure the infinite grace of God, or diminish the happiness of saints, that they are not freed from this debt of love and obedience, but rather illustrates the one and increases the other, for it cannot be supposed to consist with the wisdom and holiness of God to loose his creature from that obligation of loving obedience and subjection, which is essential to it, and it is no less repugnant to the happiness of the creature to be free from righteousness unto sin.
Now, this debt of duty and obedience hath a threefold bond, which because they stand in vigour uncancelled for all eternity, therefore the obligation arising from them is eternal too. The bond of creation, the bond of redemption, and the bond of sanctification, these are distinguished according to the persons of the Trinity, who appear most eminently in them.
We owe our being to the father, in whom "we live and move and have our being, for he made us, and not we ourselves, and we are all the works of his hands." Now, the debt accruing from this is infinite. If men conceive themselves so much obliged to others for a petty courtesy as to be their servants, -- if they owe more to their parents, the instruments of their bringing forth into the world, O how infinitely more owe we to God, of whom we are, and have all! Doth the clay owe so much to the potter, who doth not make it, but fashion it only? And what owe we to him that made us of nothing, and fashioned us while we were yet without form! Truly, all relations, all obligations evanish when this cometh forth, because all that a man hath is less than himself, than his immortal spirit, and that he oweth alone to God. And besides, whatsoever debt there is to other fellow creatures in any thing, God is the principal creditor in that bond. All the creatures are but the servants of this King, which at his sole appointment bring along his gifts unto us, and, therefore, we owe no more to them than to the hands of the messenger that is sent. Now, by this account nothing is our own, not ourselves, not our members, not our goods, but all are his, and to be used and bestowed, not at the will and arbitriment of creatures, but to be absolutely and solely at his disposal who hath the sole sovereign right to them and, therefore, you may take up the heinousness of sin, how monstrous and misshapen a thing it is, that breaks this inviolable law of creation, and withdraws the creature from subjection to him, in whom alone it can subsist. O how disordered are the courses and lives of men! Men living to themselves, their own lusts, after their own will, as if they had made themselves. Men using their members as weapons of unrighteousness against God, as if their tongues, and hands, and feet were their own, or the devils, and not God's. Call to mind this obligation, "remember thy Creator." That memento would be a strong engagement to another course than most take. How absurd would you think it to please yourselves in displeasing him, if you but minded the bond of creation! But when there are other two superadded, what we owe to the Son for coming down in the likeness of sinful flesh for us, and what we owe to the Holy Ghost for quickening our spirits, and afterward for the resurrection of our bodies, whose hearts would not these overcome and lead captive to his love and obedience?