Though the Lord, out of his absolute sovereignty, might deal with man in such a way, as nothing should appear but his supreme will and almighty power, he might simply command obedience, and without any more persuasions either leave men to the frowardness of their own natures, or else powerfully constrain them to their duty, yet he hath chosen that way that is most suitable to his own wisdom, and most connatural to man's nature, to lay out before him the advantages and disadvantages, and to use these as motives and persuasives of his Spirit. For since he hath by his first creation implanted in man's soul such a principle as moveth itself upon the presentation of good or evil, that this might not be in vain, he administers all the dispensations of the law and gospel in a way suitable to that, by propounding such powerful motives as may incline and persuade the heart of man. It is true, there's a secret drawing withal necessary, the pull of the Father's arm and power of the Holy Ghost, yet that which is visible or sensible to the soul is the framing of all things so as to engage it upon rational terms. It is set between two contraries, death and life, -- death which it naturally abhorreth, and life which it naturally loveth. An even balance is holden up before the light of the conscience, in which obedience and sin are weighed, and it is found even to the convincing of the spirit of man, that there are as many disadvantages in the one as advantages in the other.
This was the way that God used first with man in paradise. You remember the terms run so, -- "'What day thou eatest thou shalt die." He hedged him in on the one side by a promise of life, on the other by a threatening of death. And these two are very rational restraints, suited to the soul of man, and in the inward principles of it, which are a kind of instinct to that which is apprehended good or gainful.
Now, this verse runs even so in the form of words "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die." You see this method is not changed under the gospel, for, indeed, it is natural to the spirit of man, and he hath now much more need of all such persuasions, because there is a great change of man's inclination to the worst side. All within is so disordered and perverse that a thousand hedges of persuasive grounds cannot do that which one might have done at first. Then they were added out of superabundance, but now out of necessity, -- then they were set about man to preserve him in his natural frame and inclinations, but now they are needful to change and alter them quite, which is a kind of creation, therefore saith David, "create in me a new spirit," and, therefore, the gospel abounds in variety of motives and inducements, in greater variety, of far more powerful inducements than the law. Here is that great persuasion taken from the infinite gain or loss of the soul of man, which, if any thing be able to prevail, this must do, seeing it is seconded with some natural inclination in the soul of man to seek its own gain. Yet there is a difference between the nature of such like promises and threatenings in the first covenant and in the second. In the first covenant, though life was freely promised, yet it was immediately annexed to perfect obedience as a consequent reward of it. It was firstly promised unto complete righteousness of men's persons. But in the second covenant, firstly and principally life eternal, grace and glory is promised to Jesus Christ and his seed, antecedent to any condition or qualification upon their part. And then again, all the promises that run in way of condition, as, "He that believeth shall not perish," &c., "If ye walk after the Spirit, ye shall live." These are all the consequent fruits of that absolute gracious disposition and resignation of grace and life to them whom Christ hath chosen. And so their believing, and walking, and obeying, cometh in principally as parts of the grace promised, and as witnesses and evidences and confirmations of that life which is already begun, and will not see an end. Besides that, by virtue of these absolute promises made to the seed of Christ, and Christ's complete performance of all conditions in their name, the promises of life are made to faith principally, which hath this peculiar virtue to carry forth the soul to another's righteousness and sufficiency, and to bottom it upon another and in the next place, to holy walking, though mixed with many infirmities, which promise, in the first covenant, was only annexed to perfect and absolute obedience.
You heard, in the preceding verse, a strong inducement taken from the bond, debt, and duty we owe to the Spirit, to walk after it, and the want of all obligation to the flesh. Now, if honesty and duty will not suffice to persuade you, as you know in other things it would do with any honest man, plain equity is a sufficient bond to him. Yet, consider what the apostle subjoins from the damage, and from the advantage which may of itself be the topics of persuasion, and serves to drive in the nail of debt and duty to the head. If you will not take with this debt you owe to the Spirit, but still conceive there is some greater obligation lying on you, to care for your bodies and satisfy them, then, I say, behold the end of it, what fruit you must one day reap of the flesh and service of sin. "If ye live after the flesh, you shall die." But then, consider the fruit you shall reap of the Spirit, and holy walking "you shall live." It is true the flesh may flatter you more for the present, but the end of it will lie bitter as death, amplectitur ut strangulet, "the flesh embraces you that it may strangle you." And so if you knew all well you would not think you owed it any thing but enmity and hatred and mortification. If your duty will not move you, let the love of yourselves and your souls persuade you, for it is an irrepealable statute: "The wages of sin is death." Every way you choose to fulfil the lusts of your flesh, and to make provision for it, neglecting the eternal welfare of your souls, certainly it shall prove to you "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," it shall be as the forbidden fruit, which instead of performing that which was promised will bring forth death, -- the eternal separation of the soul from God. Adam's sin was a breviary or epitome of the multiplied and enlarged sins of mankind. You may see in this tragedy all your fortunes (so to speak,) -- you may behold in it the flattering insinuations and deceitful promises of sin and Satan, who is a liar and murderer from the beginning, and murdered man at first by lying to him. You find the hook covered over with the varnished bait of an imaginary life and happiness, satisfaction promised to the eye, to the taste, and to the mind. And upon these enticements, man bewitched and withdrawn from his God, after these vain and empty shadows, which, when he catched hold upon, he himself was caught and laid hold upon by the wrath of God, -- by death and all the miseries before it or after it. Now, here is the map of the world, -- for all that is in the world is but a larger volume of that same kind, "the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life!" Albeit they have been known and found to be the notablest and grossest deceivers, and every man, after he hath spent his days in pursuit and labour for them, is constrained to acknowledge at length, though too late, that all that is in the world is but an imposture, a delusion, a dream, and worse, yet every man hearkens after these same flatteries and lies that hath cast down so many wounded, and made so many strong ones to fall by them. Every man trusts the world and his own flesh, as if they were of good report and of known integrity. And this is men's misery, that no man will learn wisdom upon others expenses, upon the woful and tragical example of so many others, but go on as confidently now, after the discovery of these deceivers, as if this were the first time they had made such promises, and used such fair words to men. Have they not been these six thousand years almost deluding the world? And have we not as many testimonies of their falsehood, as there have been persons in all ages before us? After Adam hath tasted of this tree of pleasure and found another fruit growing on it and that is death, should the posterity be so mad as to be meddling still with the forbidden tree? And wherefore forbidden? Because destructive to ourselves.
Know then and consider, beloved in the Lord, that you shall reap no other thing of all your labours and endeavours after the flesh, all your toiling and perplexing cares, all your excessive pains in the making provision for your lusts, and caring for the body only, you shall reap no other harvest of all, but death and corruption. Death, you think that is a common lot, and you cannot eschew it however, nay, but the death here meant is of another sort, in respect of which you may call death life. It is the everlasting destruction of the soul from the presence of God and the glory of his power. It is the falling of that infinite weight of the wrath of the Lamb upon you, in respect of which, mountains and hills will be thought light, and men would rather wish to be covered with them, Rev. vi.16. Suppose, now, you could swim in a river of delights and pleasures, (which yet is given to none, for truly, upon a just reckoning, it will be found that the anxiety, and grief, and bitterness, that is intermingled with all earthly delights, swallows up the sweetness of them,) yet it will but carry you down ere you be aware, into the sea of death and destruction, as the fish that swim and sport for a while in Jordan, are carried down into the Dead sea of Sodom, where they are presently suffocated and extinguished,(210) or, as a malefactor is carried through a pleasant palace to the gallows, so men walk through the delights of their flesh, to their own endless torment and destruction.
Seeing then, my beloved, that your sins and lusts which you are inclined and accustomed to, will certainly kill you, if you entertain them, then nature itself would teach you the law of self-defence, -- to kill, ere you be killed, to kill sin, ere it kill you, -- to mortify the deeds and lusts of the body, which abound among you, or they will certainly mortify you, that is, make you die. Now, if self love could teach you this, which the love of God cannot persuade you to, yet it is well, for being once led unto God, and moved to change your course, upon the fear and apprehension of the infinite danger that will ensue. Certainly if you were but a little acquainted with the sweetness of this life, and goodness of your God, you would find the power of the former argument a debito, from debt and duty, upon your spirit. Let this once lead you unto God, and you will not want that which will constrain you to abide, and never to depart from him.
If you mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live. As sin decays, you increase and grow, as sins die, your souls live, and it shall be a sure pledge to you of that eternal life. And though this be painful and laborious yet consider, that it is but the cutting off of a rotten member, that would corrupt the whole body, and the want of it will never maim or mutilate the body, for you shall live perfectly when sin is perfectly expired, and out of life, and according as sin is nearer expiring, and nearer the grave, your souls are nearer that endless life. If this do not move us, what can be said next? What shall he do more to his vineyard?