The life of Christianity, take it in itself, is the most pleasant and joyful life that can be, exempted from those fears and cares, those sorrows and anxieties, that all other lives are subject unto, for this of necessity must be the force and efficacy of true religion, if it be indeed true to its name, to disburden and ease the heart, and fill it with all manner of consolation. Certainly it is the most rich subject, and most completely furnished with all variety of delights to entertain a soul, that can be imagined. Yet, I must confess, while we consult with the experience and practice of Christians, this bold assertion seems to be much weakened, and too much ground is given to confirm the contrary misapprehensions of the world, who take it to be a sullen, melancholic, and disconsolate life, attended with many fears and sorrows. It is, alas! too evident, that many Christians are kept in bondage, almost all their lifetime, through fear of eternal death. How many dismal representations of sin and wrath, are in the souls of some Christians, which keep them in much thraldom? At least, who is it that is not once and often brought in bondage after conversion, and made to apprehend fearfully their own estate, who hath such constant uninterrupted peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, or lies under such direct beams of divine favour, but it is sometimes eclipsed, and their souls filled with the darkness of horror and terror? And truly the most part taste not so much sweetness in religion as makes them incessant and unwearied in the ways of godliness. Yet, notwithstanding of all this, we must vindicate Christianity itself, and not impute these things unto it which are the infirmities and faults of the followers of it, who do not improve it unto such an use or use it so far as in itself it is capable. Indeed, it is true that often we are brought to fear again, yet withal it is certain that our allowance is larger, and that we have received the Spirit, not to put us in bondage again to fear, but rather to seal to our hearts that love of God, which may not only expel fear but bring in joy. I wish that this were deeply considered by all of us, that there is such a life as this attainable, -- that the word of God doth not deceive us in promising fair things which it cannot perform, but that there is a certain reality in the life of Christianity, in that peace and joy, tranquillity and serenity of mind that is holden out, and that some have really found it, and do find it, and that the reason why all of us do not find it in experience, is not because it is not, but because we have so little apprehension of it and diligence after it. It is strange that all men who have pursued satisfaction in the things of this life, being disappointed, and one generation witnessing this to another, and one person to another, that, notwithstanding, men are this day as fresh in the pursuit of that, as big in the expectations as ever. And yet, in this business of religion, and the happiness to be found in it, though the oracles of God in all ages have testified from heaven how certain and possible it is, though many have found it in experience and left it on record to others, there is so slender belief of the reality and certainly of it, and so slack pursuit of it, as if we did not believe it at all. Truly, my beloved, there is a great mistake in this, and it is general too. All men apprehend other things more feasible and attainable than personal holiness and happiness in it, but truly, I conceive there is nothing in the world so practicable as this, -- nothing made so easy, so certain to a soul that really minds it.
Let us take it so then, the fault is not religion's, that those who profess it are subject to so much fear and care, and disquieted with so much sorrow. It is rather because Christianity doth not sink into the hearts and souls of men, but only puts a tincture on their outside, or because the faith of divine truths is so superficial, and the consideration of them so slight, that they cannot have much efficacy and influence on the heart, to quiet and compose it. Is it any wonder that some souls be subject again to the bondage of fear and terror when they do not stand in awe to sin? Much liberty to sin will certainly embondage the spirit of a Christian to fear. Suppose a believer in Jesus Christ be exempted from the hazard of condemnation, yet he is the greatest fool in the world that would, on that account, venture on satisfaction to his lusts. For though it be true that he be not in danger of eternal wrath, yet he may find so much present wrath in his conscience as may make him think it was a foolish bargain. He may lose so much of the sweetness of the peace and joy of God as all the pleasures of sin cannot compense. Therefore to the end that you whose souls are once pacified by the blood of Christ, and composed by his word of promise, may enjoy that constant rest and tranquillity as not to be enthralled again to your old fears and terrors, I would advise and recommend to you these two things: -- One is, that you would be much in the study of that allowance which the promises of Christ afford. Be much in the serious apprehension of the gospel, and certainly your doubts and fears would evanish at one puff of such a rooted and established meditation. Think what you are called to, not "to fear" again, but to love rather, and honour him as a Father. And, then, take heed to walk suitably and preserve your seal of adoption unblotted, unrusted. You would study so to walk as you may not cast dirt upon it, or open any gap in the conscience for the re entry of these hellish-like fears and dreadful apprehensions of God. Certainly, it is impossible to preserve the spirit in freedom if a man be not watchful against sin and corruption. David prays, "re establish me with thy free Spirit," as if his spirit had been abased, embondaged, and enthralled by the power of that corruption. If you would have your spirits kept free from the fear of wrath, study to keep them free from the power of sin, for that is but a fruit of this, and it is most suitable that the soul that cares not to be in bondage to sinful lusts, should, by the righteousness of God, tempered with love and wisdom, be brought under the bondage he would not, that is, of fear and terror, for by this means the Lord makes him know how evil the first is, by the bitterness of the second.
It is usual on such a scripture as this, to propound many questions, and debate many practical cases as, whether a soul after believing can be under legal bondage, and wherein these differ, the bondage of a soul after believing, and in its first conversion, and how far that bondage of fear is preparatory to faith, and many such like. But I choose rather to hold forth the simple and naked truth for your edification, than put you upon to entertain you in such needless janglings and contentions. All I desire to say to a soul in bondage, is, to exhort him to come to the Redeemer, and to consider that his case calls and cries for a delivery. Come, I say, and he shall find rest and liberty to his soul. All I would say to souls delivered from this bondage, is, to request and beseech them to live in a holy fear of sin, and jealousy over themselves, that so they may not be readily brought under the bondage of the fear of wrath again. Perfect love casts out the fear of hell, but perfect love brings in the fear of sin. Ye that love the Lord, hate ill, and if ye hate it, ye will fear it in this state of infirmity and weakness, wherein we are. And if at any time ye, through negligence and carelessness of walking, lose the comfortable evidence of the Father's love, and be reduced again to your old prison of legal terror, do not despair for that, do not think that such a thing could not befall a child of God, and from that ground do not raze former foundations, for the scripture saith not, that whosoever believes once in Christ, and receives the Spirit of adoption, cannot fear again; for we see it otherwise in David, in Heman, in Job, &c., all holy saints. But the scripture saith, Ye have not received the spirit of bondage for that end, to fear again. It is not the allowance of your Father. Your allowance is better and larger, if you knew it, and did not sit below it.
Now, the great gift, and large allowance of our Father, is expressed in the next words, "But ye have received the Spirit of adoption," &c, which Spirit of adoption is a Spirit of intercession, to make us cry to God as our Father. These are two gifts, adoption, or the privilege of sons and the Spirit of adoption revealing the love and mercy of God to the heart, and framing it to a soul like disposition. Compare the two states together, and it is a marvellous change, -- a rebel condemned, and then pardoned, and then adopted to be a son of God, -- a sinner under bondage, a bond slave to sin and Satan, not only freed from that intolerable bondage, but advanced to this liberty, to be made a son of God. This will be the continued wonder of eternity, and that whereabout the song of angels and saints will be. Accursed rebels expecting nothing but present death, sinners arraigned and sentenced before his tribunal and already tasting hell in their consciences, and in fear of eternal perishing, not only to be delivered from all that, but to be dignified with this privilege, to be the sons of God, to be taken from the gibbet to be crowned! That is the great mystery of wisdom and grace revealed in the gospel, the proclaiming whereof will be the joint labour of all the innumerable companies above for all eternity. Now, if you ask how this estate is attainable, himself tells us, John i.12, "As many as believed (or received) him, to them he gave the privilege to be the sons of God." The way is made plain and easy. Christ the Son of God, the natural and eternal Son of God, became the Son of man. To facilitate this, he hath taken on the burden of man's sin, the chastisement of our peace, and so of the glorious Son of God he became like the wretched and accursed sons of men, and therefore God hath proclaimed in the gospel, not only an immunity and freedom from wrath, to all that in the sense of their own misery cordially receive him as he is offered, but the unspeakable privilege of sonship and adoption for his sake, who became our elder brother, Gal. iv.4, 5. Men that want children, use to supply their want by adopting some beloved friend in the place of a son, and this is a kind of supply of nature for the comfort of them that want. But it is strange, that God having a Son so glorious, the very character of his person, and brightness of his glory, in whom he delighted from eternity, -- strange, I say, that he should in a manner lose and give away his only begotten Son, that he might by his means adopt others, poor despicable creatures, yea, rebellious, to be his sons and daughters. Certainly, this is an act infinitely transcending nature, -- such an act that hath an unsearchable mystery in it, into which angels desire to look and never cease looking, because they never see the bottom of it. It was not out of indigency he did it, not for any need he had of us, or comfort expected from us, but absolutely for our necessity and consolation, that he might have upon whom to pour the riches of his grace.