As to the first of these, viz. The mortification or crucifying of the old man, we would know, that there is such a principle of wickedness and enmity against God in man by nature, now since the fall, whereby the man is inclined to evil, and only to evil. This is called the old man, as being like the body, made of so many parts, joints, and members, that is, so many lusts and corruptions and evil inclinations, which, together, make up a-corpus, and they are fast joined and compacted together, as the members of the body, each useful and serviceable to one another, and all of them concurring and contributing their utmost to the carrying on of the work of sin, and so it is the man of sin; and it is also called the old man, as having first possession of the soul, before it is by grace renewed, and it is a dying more and more daily. Thus it is called the old man, and the body of sin, Rom. vi.6. This old man hath his members in our members and faculties, so that none of them are free, -- understanding, will, affections, and the members of our body are all servants of unrighteousness to this body of sin, and old man. So we read of the motions of sin, Rom. vii.5, which work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death; and of the lusts of the flesh, Rom. xiii.14. Gal. v.16, 24; and the lusts of sin, Rom. vi.12. So we hear of the desires of the flesh and of the mind, Eph. ii.3; and of affections and lusts, Gal. v.24. And the old man is said to be corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts, Eph. iv.22; all which lusts and affections are as so many members of this body of sin, and of this old man. And, further, there is herein a considerable power, force, and efficacy, which this old man hath in us, to carry us away, and, as it were, command or constrain us, as by a forcible law. Hence we read of the law of sin and death, Rom. viii.2, which only the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ doth make us free from." It is also called a "law in our members warring against the law of our mind," Rom. vii.23, "and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members." So it is said, "to lust against the Spirit, and to war," Gal. v.17. All which point out the strength, activity, and dominion of sin in the soul, so that it is as the husband over the wife, Rom. vii.1; yea, it hath a domineering and constraining power, where its horns are not held in by grace. And as its power is great, so its nature is wicked and malicious; for it is pure "enmity against God," Rom. viii.7; so that it neither is nor can be reconciled, and therefore must be put off and abolished, Eph. ii.15; killed and crucified, Rom. vi.6. Now herein lieth the work of a believer, to be killing, mortifying, and crucifying this enemy, or rather enmity; and delivering himself from under this bondage and slavery, that he may be Christ's free man, and that through the Spirit, Rom. viii.13.
Now, if it be asked, How shall a believer make use of Christ, to the end this old man may be gotten crucified? or, how should a believer mortify this old man, and the lusts thereof, through Christ, or by the Spirit of Jesus? We shall propose those things, which may help to clear this:
1. The believer should have his eye on this old man as his arch-enemy, as a deadly cut-throat lying within his bosom. It is an enemy lodging within him, in his soul, mind, heart, and affections, so that there is no part free; and therefore is acquaint with all the motions of the soul, and is always opposing and hindering every thing that is good. It is an enemy that will never be reconciled to God, and therefore will not be reconciled with the believer as such; for it is called enmity itself, and so it is always actively seeking to promove the ruin of the soul, what by prompting, inclining, moving, and forcibly drawing or driving, sometimes with violence and rage, to evil; what by with standing, resisting, opposing, counter-working, and contradicting what is good; so that the believer cannot get that done which he would do, and is made to do that which he would not. Therefore this being such an enemy, and so dangerous an enemy, so constant and implacable an enemy, so active and close an enemy, so deadly and destructive, it is the believer's part to guard against this enemy, to have a vigilant eye upon it, to carry as an irreconcilable enemy thereunto; and therefore never to come in terms of capitulation or agreement therewith, never once to parley, let be make peace. And the believer would not have his vigilant eye upon this or that member of this body of death, so much as upon the body itself, or the principle of wickedness and rebellion against God; the head, life, spirit, or law, of this body of death; for there lieth its greatest wickedness and activity; and this is always opposing us, though not in every joint and member; but sometimes in one, sometimes in another.
2. Though the believer should have a main eye upon the body, this innate, strong, and forcible law of sin and death, yet should he have friendship and familiarity with no part, member, or lust of all this body. All the deeds of the body should be mortified, Rom. viii.13; the old man with his deeds should be mortified, Col. iii.6; and we should "mortify our members which are upon the earth," verse 5; for all of them are against us, and the least of them countenanced, entertained, and embraced, will work our ruin, and cut our soul's throat; therefore should the believer look on each of them, and on all of them, as his deadly enemies.
3. He should consider, that, as it is a very unseemly thing for him to be a slave to that old tyrant, and to yield his members as so many servants to iniquity, so it is dangerous and deadly. His life lieth at the stake; either he must get it mortified, killed, and subdued, or it will kill him; his life will go for its life; if this enemy escape, he is a gone man. The consideration of this should cause the believer to act here in earnestness and seriousness, with care and diligence, and set about this work of mortification with labour and pains.
4. Much more must it be against all reason and Christianity, for the believer to be making "provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof," Rom. xiii.14. To be strengthening the hands of, and laying provision to this enemy, which is set and sworn against us, can stand with no reason. And here is much of the Christian's prudence and spiritual wisdom required, to discern what may make for fostering of this or that corruption, or member of the body of sin and death, and to withdraw that, as we will labour to take away provision of any kind from an enemy that is coming against us. Paul acted herein as a wise gamester and combatant, when he kept under his body, and brought it into subjection, 1 Cor. ix.27. It were but to mock God, and to preach forth our own folly, to be looking to Christ for help against such an enemy, and, in the meantime, to be underhand strengthening the hands of the enemy; this would be double dealing, and treachery against ourselves.
5. To the end, their opposition unto this enemy may be the stronger and more resolute, they should consider, that this body of sin is wholly set against God, and his interest in the soul, being very enmity itself against God, Rom. viii.7; and always lusting and fighting against the work of God in the soul, Gal. v.17; and against every thing that is good, so that it will not suffer, so far as it can hinder the soul to do anything that is good, at least in a right manner, and for a right end. Nay, with its lustings, it driveth constantly to that which is evil, raiseth evil motions and inclinations in the soul, ere the believer be aware; sideth with any temptation that is offered, to the end that it may destroy the soul, like a traitor within; as we see it did in David, when he fell into adultery; and with Asaph, Psalm lxxiii.2; yea, itself opposeth and tempteth, James i.14, by setting mind, will, and affections on wrong courses; and thus it driveth the soul to a course of rebellion against God, or diverts it, and draws it back, that it cannot get God served aright; yea, sometimes it sets a fire in the soul, entangling all the faculties, filling the mind with darkness or prejudice, misleading or preventing the affections, and so miscarrying the will, and leading it captive, Rom. vii.23; so that the thing is done which the unregenerate soul would not do, and the duty is left undone which the soul would fain have done; yea, and that sometimes notwithstanding of the soul's watching and striving against this; so strong is its force.
6. The believer should remember, that this enemy is not for him to fight against alone, and that his own strength and skill will make but a slender opposition unto it. It will laugh at the shaking of his spear; it can easily insinuate itself, on all occasions, because it lieth so near and close to the soul, always residing there, and is at the believer's right hand whatever he be doing, and is always openly or closely opposing, and that with great facility; for it easily besetteth, Heb. xii.1, because it lieth within the soul, and in all the faculties of it -- in the heart, mind, will, conscience, and affections; so that upon this account, the deceitfulness of the heart is great, and passeth the search of man, Jer. xvii.9. Man cannot know all the windings and turnings, all the drifts and designs, all the lurking and retiring places, all the falsehoods and double dealings, all the dissimulations, lies, and subterfuges, all the plausible and deceitful pretexts and insinuations of his heart acted and spirited by this law of sin and death. And besides this slight and cunning, it hath strength and power to draw by lusts into destruction and perdition, 1 Tim. iv.9, and to carry the soul headlong; so that it makes the man's case miserable, Rom. vii.24. All which would say, that the believer should call in other help than his own, and remember, that "through the Spirit he must mortify the deeds of the body," Rom. viii.13.
7. And therefore the believer must lay aside all his carnal weapons, in dealing with his adversary, and look out for divine help and assistance, even for the promised Spirit, through which alone he can be instructed and enabled for this great work; for of himself he can do nothing, not so much as think a good thought as of himself, 2 Cor. iii.5, far less will he be able to oppose such a mighty adversary, that hath so great and many advantages; and therefore all his carnal means, purposes, vows, and fightings in himself, will but render himself weaker, and a readier prey unto this adversary, which gaineth ground while he is so opposed. It is Christ alone and his Spirit, that can destroy the works of the devil, and kill or crucify this enmity.
8. So that the believer must have his recourse for help and succour here, unto Jesus the Captain of salvation, and must follow him, and fight under his banners, make use of his weapons, which are spiritual; fight according to his counsel and conduct, taking him as a Leader and Commander, and lying open for his orders and instructions, waiting for the motions of his Spirit, and following them; and thus oppose and fight against this deadly enemy, with an eye always on Christ by faith, depending on him for light to the mind, resolution to the will, and grace to the whole soul to stand in the battle, and to withstand all assaults, and never engage in a dispute with this enemy, or any lust or member of this body without Christ the principal, that is, the soul would despair in itself, and be strong in him, and in the power of his might, by faith griping to him, as Head, Captain, and Commander-in-chief, resolving to fight in his strength, and to oppose through the help of his Spirit.
9. And for this cause, the believer would eye the covenant of redemption, the basis of all our hope and consolation, wherein final and full victory is promised to Christ, as Head of the elect, viz. "that he shall bruise the serpent's head;" and so that in him, all his followers and members of his mystical body shall lift up the head, and get full victory at length over both sin and death. Now it is "God that giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ," 1 Cor. xv.57. The believer would also eye by faith the covenant of grace, wherein particularly this same victory is promised to the believer, in and through Jesus, Rom. xvi.20. "And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly; and sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace," Rom. vi.14. The believer, I say, would look out by faith unto, and lay hold on these and the like promises, and thereby get strength conveyed to himself, whereby he may strive lawfully, and fight valiantly, and oppose with courage and resolution.
10. Further, the believer would eye Christ as a fountain of furniture, as a full and complete magazine, standing open, and ready for every one of his honest soldiers to run to for new supplies of what they want; so that whatever they find wanting in their Christian armour, they must run away to the open magazine, Christ's fulness, that standeth ready for them, and by faith take and put on what they want and stand in need of in their warfare. If their girdle of truth be slacked, loosed, or weakened, and they be meeting with temptations anent their hypocrisy, and Satan objecting to them their double dealing, of purpose to discourage them, and to make them faint and give over the fight; they must away to him who is the truth, that he may bind on that girdle better, and make their hearts more upright before God in all they do. And if their breastplate of righteousness be weakened, and Satan there seem to get advantage, by casting up to them their unrighteous dealings towards God or men, they must flee to him, who only can help here, and beg pardon through his blood for their failings, and set to again afresh to the battle. If their resolution, which is understood by the preparation of the gospel of peace, grow weak, it must be renewed in Christ's armoury, and the feet of new be shod therewith. If their shield of faith begin to fail them, away must they get to him who "is the Author and Finisher of faith," Heb. xii.2. And if their helmet of hope begin to fail them, in this armoury alone can that be supplied. And if their sword be blunted in their hand, or they unable to wield it aright, the Spirit of Jesus can only teach their hands to fight, and instruct them how to manage that useful weapon with advantage. Thus must the believer "be strong in him, and in the power of his might," Eph. vi.10. "He is their God that girdeth them with strength, and maketh their way perfect. He maketh their feet like hind's feet, and setteth them upon their high places. He teacheth their hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by their arms. He giveth them the shield of salvation. His right hand upholdeth them. He girdeth with strength unto the battle," &c. Psalm xviii.32, &c.
11. For the further strengthening of their hope, faith, and confidence, believers would eye Christ, as hanging on the cross, and overcoming by death, death, and him that hath the power of death, the devil; and so as meritoriously purchasing this redemption from the slavery of sin and Satan, and particularly from the slavery of that body of death, and of the law of sin and death; for the apostle tells us, Rom. viii.2, "That the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus doth make us free from the law of sin and death," and that because, as he saith further, ver.3, 4, "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us." So that the believer may now look upon that enemy, how fearful soever it may appear, as condemned and killed in the death, of Christ; he having laid down the price of redemption, hath bought this freedom from the chains and fetters with which he was held in captivity. Faith, then, on the death of Jesus satisfying justice for the poor captive, may, and should support and strengthen the hope and confidence of the believer, that he shall obtain the victory at length.
12. And it will further confirm the hope and faith of the believer, to look to Christ hanging on the cross, and there vanquishing and overcoming this arch-enemy, as a public person, representing the elect who died in him, and virtually and legally did in him overcome that jailor, and break his fetters; and the soul now believing, may, yea, should reckon itself in Christ dying, as it were, upon the cross, and there overcoming all those spiritual enemies. "Likewise," saith the apostle, Rom. vi.11, "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin." From hence, even while fighting, the believer may account himself a conqueror, yea, "more than a conqueror, through him that loved him," Rom. viii.37. Now faith acting thus on Christ, as a public person, dying and overcoming death and sin, the believer may not only infer the certainty of victory, knowing that our old man is crucified with Christ, Rom. vi.6; but also from the cross of Christ draw strength to stand and fight against the strugglings of this vanquished and killed enemy. "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts," Gal. v.24. But how? Even by the cross of Christ. "For thereby is the world crucified unto me," saith the apostle, Gal. vi.14, "and I unto the world." "Your old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed," Rom. vi.6.
13. The believer being dead indeed unto sin, through the cross of Christ, is to look upon himself as legally freed from that yoke of bondage under sin and death. "The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth," Rom. vii.1. "But by the body of Christ believers are become dead to the law," ver.4. That law of sin and death which hath dominion over a man that liveth still in nature, and is not yet by faith planted in the likeness of Christ's death, nor buried with him by baptism into death, Rom. vi.4, 5, hath not that dominion over believers it had once -- "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made them free from the law of sin and death," Rom. viii.2; so that now the believer, is free from that tyranny; and that tyrant can exercise no lawful jurisdiction or authority over him; and therefore he may with the greater courage repel the insolencies of that tyrant, that contrary to all right and equity seeketh to lord it over him still. They are no lawful subjects to that cruel and raging prince, or to that spiritual wickedness.
14. So that the believer, renouncing that jurisdiction under which he was formerly, and being under a new husband, and under a new law, even the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, is to look upon all the motions of sin as illegal, and as treasonable acts of a tyrant. "The old man being crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, the believer is not any more to serve sin," Rom. vi.6; "and being now dead, they are freed from sin," ver.7; "and are married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, and so they should not serve sin, but bring forth fruit unto God," Rom. vii.4; and therefore, look upon all motions of the flesh, and all the inclinations and stirrings of the old law of sin, as acts of treachery and rebellion against the right and jurisdiction of the believer's new Lord and husband; and are therefore obliged to lay hold on this old man, this body of death, and all the members of it, as traitors to the rightful king and husband, and to take them prisoners to the king, that he may give out sentence, and execute the same against them, as enemies to his kingdom and interest in the soul; -- they being now no more "servants of sin, but of righteousness, they ought no more to yield their members servants to uncleanness, and iniquity unto iniquity," Rom. vi.18, 19; "and being debtors no more to the flesh, to live after the flesh," Rom. vii.12; "they are to mortify the deeds of the body through the spirit," ver.13; "and to crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts," Gal. v.24; that is, by bringing them to the cross of Christ, where first they were condemned and crucified, in their full body and power; that a new sentence, as it were, may go out against them, as parts of that condemned tyrant, and as belonging to that crucified body.
15. So that the believer that would carry faithfully in this matter, and fight lawfully in this warfare, and hope to obtain the victory through Jesus Christ, must bring these traitors that appear in their sinful motions and lusts in the soul, working rebellion against the just authority and equitable laws of the lawful prince Jesus, before the tribunal of him who hath now got "all power and authority in heaven and in earth," Matt, xxviii.18; "and hath all judgment committed to him," John v.22; "and to this end, both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living," Rom. xvi.9; that he may execute justice upon the traitor, head, and members; that he may trample these devils under, and bruise the head of these serpents within us. The believer then is by faith in prayer, to carry these open enemies to Christ, and declare and witness against them as traitors, by what mischief they have done in the soul, by their hindering the righteous laws of the king to be obeyed; and constraining and forcing, what by arguments and allurements, and what by forcible inclinations and pousings, to a disobedience and a counteracting of Christ; and he should urge and plead upon the fundamental laws of the land, viz. the articles of agreement betwixt the Father and the Son, and the faithful promises of the covenant of grace; and upon Christ's office as king and governor, and his undertaking as Mediator; upon the merits of his death and sufferings; upon his dying as a common person; upon the constitution of the gospel, whereby they are in law repute as dying in him, and so free from the law of sin and death; and upon their relation to him as their new Lord, Head, Husband, King, Commander, &c. Upon these arguments, I say, to plead for justice against the rebel that is now brought to the bar, and so by faith leave the prisoner in his hand, that he may, in his own time and way, give a second blow unto the neck of this implacable and raging enemy, that he may not rise up to disturb the peace of the soul as before; or to trouble, impede, and molest the soul in paying the homage and obedience due to his lawful master and sovereign king, JESUS.
CAUTIONS AND DIRECTIONS.
For further clearing of the premises, I would propose a few particulars, for caution and direction, as, --
1. This work of laying the burden of this business on Christ by faith, would be gone about with much singleness of heart, aiming at the glory of God, and the carrying on of his work in the soul; and not for self-ends, and carnal by-respects, lest thereby we mar all.
2. It would be carried on, without partiality, against all and every one of the lusts and motions of the old man. For if there be a compliance with and a sparing of any one known lust, the whole work may be marred; they may meet with a disappointment as to the particular lust they are desiring victory over; -- and the lust they are harbouring, though it may seem little, may open a door to many stronger, and so occasion sad days to the man, ere he be aware.
3. As they would bring the particular lust, or lusts, unto Christ, as chief Lord Justice; so they would always lay the axe to the root of the tree, and crave justice against the main body, that yet lieth within the soul; and these particular corruptions and affections, that are as members of that body of sin, should put them in mind of the old man, for they should "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts thereof," Gal. v.24; the body and the members. These lusts are the lusts of sin, or of that head-sin, which hath a law, or the force and impulse of a law in the soul; and therefore their main design would be against this root, where lieth the strength and body of the enemy, and which acteth in those members; this is the capital enmity, and should be mainly opposed. And the following of this course would prove more successful than that which many time we take: our nibbling at, or wrestling against this or that member of the body of death, is but of little advantage, so long as the main body of sin, the bitter root of wickedness, the carnal mind, this innate enmity is miskent, and not opposed; but on the contrary, strike at this, we strike at all.
4. This would be the believer's constant work, to be "crucifying the flesh, with the lusts thereof; to be mortifying their members," wherein the members of the old man quarter and lodge, Col. iii.5; "to be spiritually minded, and to mind the things of the Spirit," Rom. viii.5, 6. "For the carnal mind is enmity, against God," Rom. viii.7; "and so is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." It is not only an enemy which may be reconciled, but enmity in the abstract, which never can be reconciled. And this enmity will never be idle; for it cannot till it be fully and finally destroyed; "the flesh is always lusting against the spirit,'" Gal. v.17; "for they are contrary one to the other." So that though, to our sense, it may sometimes appear as sleeping, in regard that it doth not by some particular lust so molest and perplex the soul as formerly it did: yet it is restless, and may be more active in another lust, and so by changing weapons on us, deceive us. Here then is much spiritual wisdom and vigilancy required. When they think they have gotten one lust subdued, they must not think the war is at an end; but after all their particular victories, watch and pray, that they enter not into temptation.
5. This way of laying the weight of the matter on Christ, should and will keep them humble, and teach them not to ascribe the glory of any good that is done unto themselves, but to give him all the glory, who is jealous of his glory, and will not give it to another, that the crown may alone flourish on his head, who is the captain of their salvation, and who by his Spirit worketh all their works in them.
6. Nor would this way of carrying the matter to Christ, and putting it over on him, cause the believer become negligent in commanded duties, reading, hearing prayer, &c; for it is there he must expect to meet with Christ; there must he seek him, and there must he wait for him, and his Spirit to do the work desired. For though he hath not limited himself to these means, so, as he cannot, or will not any other way help, yet he hath bound us to them; and it is our duty to wait there, where he hath commanded us to wait, though he should sometime think good to come another way, for the manifestation of the sovereignty of his grace.
7. Yet while we are about the means, we would guard against a leaning to them, lest, instead of getting victory over corruption, we be brought more in bondage thereunto another way. We must not think that our prayers, or our hearing, or reading, &c. will bring down the body of death, or subdue any one corruption; for that were but an yielding to corruption, and opening a back door to the carnal mind, and to another deadly lust, and a beating corruption with a sword of straw. This is not to mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit, but through the flesh; and a fleshly weapon will never draw blood of this spiritual wickedness or old man, or of any corrupt lust or affection thereof; and yet how many times doth our deceitful heart bias us this way? Our work would be, as is said, to use the ordinances as means, whereby we may get the business laid on Christ, and help from Christ to do the business. We must go to the means with our prisoner to find Christ there at his court and assizes, that he may take course with the traitor.
8. In all this there would be a looking to, and dependence on Christ for help and grace; because of ourselves, as of ourselves, we cannot do this much; we cannot complain aright of corruptions, nor take them away to Christ, nor ask for justice against them. As constables and other officers must carry malefactors to the courts of justice, upon public charges; so Christ will not have us doing or attempting this much on our own charges, for he giveth noble allowance.
9. In following of this course, we would not think always to come speed at the first. Sometimes the Lord, for the encouragement of his children, may give them a speedy hearing, and deliver them from the tyranny of some particular lust or other that hath troubled them; so that for some time at least, it shall not so trouble them as it did. Yet he will not do so always, but may think it good to keep them waiting on him, and hanging on his courts for some considerable time, that he may thereby exercise their faith, patience, desire, zeal, and diligence. So that it should not seem strange to us, if we be not admitted at the first, and get not our answer at the first cry.
10. When the Lord thinketh good to delay the answer to our desires, and the execution of justice on the malefactor and traitor, or to deliver us from his tyranny and trouble, we would beware of thinking to capitulate with the enemy for our peace and quiet, or to enter into a cessation of arms with him; that is, our enmity against him should never abate; nor should our desire after the mortification and crucifixion of this lust grow less; nor should we be at quiet and at peace, though it should seem to grow a little more calm and still, or not to rage as formerly; for this looks but like a covenant or confederacy with lust, which will not stand.
11. We would also know, that what Christ said of devils, holdeth good of these lusts, viz. "that some of them do not go out but by fasting and prayer;" that is, by Christ sought unto and found in these means. There are some lusts that will not be so easily killed and mortified as others, but will cost us more pains and labour, as being corruptions which possibly have some greater advantage of our natural temper and constitution of body, or of long continuance and a cursed habit, or the like. We must not then think it strange, if some such lust be not subdued so easily as some others to which we have fewer and weaker, and not so frequent temptations.
12. As we cannot expect a full conquest of the body of death, so long as we are here, as was shown above, neither can we expect a full and final victory over any one lust, which ever we have been troubled with. It is true, believers may be kept from some gross out-breaking of a corruption, which sometime prevailed, as Peter was from relapsing into an open and downright denying his Master; yet that same corruption did afterward stir, though not so violently as to carry him to such an height of sin; yet so far as to cause him do that which was a partial denying of his Master, when Paul withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed for withdrawing from the Gentiles, for fear of them of the circumcision, &c. Gal. ii.11, 12.: So, though a particular lust may be so far subdued through grace, as that for some considerable time a man may not find it so violent as it was; yet be cannot say that it is totally killed, because it may stir thereafter in some weaker measure; yea, he cannot tell, but ere he come to die, that same corruption may rise to be as violent as ever, and that Satan may again think to enter the soul at that same breach which once he entered at; yea, and who can tell, whether God may not suffer that corruption, which lay long as dead, to revive again for a time, and for a time drive the soul as violently as ever, and prevail for a time? And this should teach all to walk soberly, watchfully, and in fear, and to have a vigilant eye, even upon such lusts and carnal affections, as they may suppose they have got the victory of.
13. We would not think that we gain no ground upon corruption, because we still perceive it stirring, less or more; for as corruption is not always strongest, as was said above, nor hath the deepest footing in the soul, when its motions and stirrings are most felt; so neither must we think that there is no ground gained upon a lust, because we are still troubled and molested with its stirrings; for it is a great advantage to be more sensible of the motions of this enemy; and our more faithful and active wrestling against it may make its least stirrings more sensible to us; as the motions and trouble which a malefactor, while in grips and in prison, maketh, may be thought more of than his greater ragings before he was apprehended; yet he may be sure in fetters for all that. A beast that hath gotten death's blow may get out of grips, and run more mad than ever, and yet will die at length of the same blow.
14. Though we should find present ease and quiet by our following this way, yet we should think it much, if the Lord help us to stand, when we have done all we can, though we meet not with the hoped for success presently; if he give us grace to continue without wearying or fainting, and to be resolved never to give over, we have reason to bless him; if we be kept still in the conflict with pursuit of the enemy, it is our great advantage; the victory shall come in God's own time. If our opposition so continue, that we are resolved never to take nor give quarter, though our trouble and exercise should be the greater, and our ease and quiet the less, we ought to bless him, yea, and rejoice in hope of what he shall yet do for us; for he that will come, shall come, and will not tarry. Let us wait for him, in doing our duty, and faithfully keeping our post.
15. Yea, if we get quietness or ease from the violence of raging lusts for any little time, and be not continually driven and carried headlong therewith, we ought to be thankful for this, and to walk humbly before him; lest he be provoked by our unthankfulness and pride, and let these furious dogs loose upon us again.
16. When we are bending our strength and all our forces against some one corruption or other, which possibly hath been most troublesome to us, we would not be secure as to all others, or think that we are in hazard only on this side; for Satan may make a feint here, and really intend an assault at another place, by some other corrupt affection. O what need have we of spiritual wisdom that we may be better acquainted with his stratagems and wiles I Let us so then fight against one member of this body of death, as to have our eye upon others, lest when we think to keep out Satan at the fore-door, he enter in at the back-door. He can make use of extremities, and play his game with both; yea, and gain his point, if we be not aware.
It will not be amiss, for further explaining of the matter, to remove a scruple or two. Some may say, that they cannot perceive that all their pains in this matter come to any good issue; for they never found corruption stir more, and act more lively and incessantly, than since they began to fight against it in good earnest; so that this would seem not to be the right way.
I answer, Though from what is said before, particularly cautions 9th and 13th, a resolution of this doubt maybe had; yet I shall propose those things, for further clearing of the matter:
1. May not much of this flow from thy not laying the whole work so wholly off thyself, and upon Christ, as thou oughtest to do? Try and see.
2. May not the devil rage most, when he thinks ere long to be ejected? May he not labour to create most trouble to the soul, when he seeth that he is like to be put from some of his strengths?
3. May not the devil be doing this of purpose to drive thee to despair of ever getting corruption subdued and mortified; or to a fainting and sitting up in the pursuit, and to a despondency of spirit; that so instead of fighting or standing, thou may cede and turn thee back? And should we comply with him in his designs?
4. May not the Lord give way to this for a time, to try thy seriousness, patience, submission and faith, and to sharpen thy diligence, and kindle up thy zeal? And should we not submit to his wise dispensations?
5. How can thou say that thou gainest no advantage, as long as thou art not made to lay aside the matter wholly, as hopeless of any good issue; but, on the contrary, art helped to stand, and to resist sin, to cry out against it, to fight as thou canst, and at least not to yield?
6. What if God see it for thy advantage, that thou be kept so in exercise for a time, to the end thou may be kept humble, watchful, and diligent? He may see more of thee, than thou canst see of thyself, and so may know what is best for thee; and should thou not condescend to be disposed of by him as he will, and to let him make of thee, and do with thee what he will?
7. What if God be about to chasten thee thus for thy former negligence, security, and unwatchfulness, and giving too much advantage to those lusts, which now, after his awakening of thee, thou would be delivered from? Should thou not bear the indignation of the Lord, because thou hast sinned against him, as the Church resolved to do, Micah vii.9?
8. Is it not thy duty the more that corruption stirs, to run with it the oftener to Christ, that he may subdue it and put it to silence? May not thou improve this to thy advantage, by making many errands to him?
9. May it not come in a day, that hath not come in a year? Art thou sure, that all thy pains shall be in vain? Or thinkest thou that all his children have got victory alike soon over their lusts? What cause is there then to complain thus?
10. May not all this convince thee, that it is thy duty to wait on him, in the use of his appointed means, and to be patient, standing fast to thy post, resolving, when thou hast done all, yet to stand?
11. May not this satisfy thee, that God through grace accepteth thy labour and wrestling, as thy duty, and accounteth it service to him, and obedience?
But again, it may possibly be objected thus: so long as I am in this condition, kept under with my lusts, I cannot get God glorified and served as he ought to be.
I answer, though so long as it is so with thee, thou cannot glorify and serve him, in such a particular manner as others, who have got more victory over those evils under which thou art groaning, yet God can get glory and service of thee another way; as,
1. By thy submission, with calmness of spirit, to his wise dispensations, when thou dare not speak against him, and say, with Rebecca, in another case, if it be so, why am I thus? But sweetly and willingly cast thyself down at his feet, saying, good is the will of the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good, &c.
2. By thy patient on-waiting, when thou art not wearying nor fainting, but saying, why should I not wait upon the great King's leisure? Is he not free to come when he will? Dare I set limits to the Holy One of Israel?
3. By thy humility, when thou blessest him, for keeping thee so long out of hell, and thinkest much of his giving thee grace to see and observe the stirrings of corruption, which carnal wretches never perceive; and helping thee to withstand and complain of corruption, which they sweetly comply with.
4. By thy hatred of sin, when all that Satan can do cannot make thee comply with those lusts, or sweetly embrace those vipers, or lie down in peace with those rotten members of the old man, as others do.
5. By thy watchfulness, when all thy disappointments cause thee the more earnestly watch against that enemy.
6. By thy acting faith, when still thou art carrying sin in its lusts to Christ to kill and subdue, as believing the tenor of the gospel and new covenant.
7. By thy hope, which appeareth by thy not despairing, and giving over the matter as a hopeless business, and turning aside to wicked courses.
8. By thy praying, when thou criest to him continually for help, who only can help.
9. By thy wrestling and standing against all opposition, for thereby is his strength made perfect in thy weakness, 2 Cor. xii.9.
10. By thine obedience; for it is his command that thou stand and fight this good fight of faith.
So that if thou hast a desire to glorify him, thou wants not occasion to do it, even in this condition wherein thou complainest that thou cannot get him glorified. And if those grounds do not satisfy thee, it is to be feared that it is not so much a desire to glorify him, that moveth thee to cry so earnestly for actual delivery from the trouble of the flesh and the lusts thereof, as something else, which thou may search after and find out; such as love to ease, quietness, applause and commendation of others, or the like.
But, in the third place, it may be objected, is it not promised that sin shall not have dominion over us, as "not being under the law, but under grace," Rom. vi.14. How can we then but be troubled, when we find not this promise made good?
I answer, 1st, Sin is not always victorious and domineering, when it seemeth to rage and stir most. Your opposition thereunto, fighting and wrestling against it, sheweth that it hath not full dominion. So long as an invading usurper is opposed, he hath not full dominion, not having peaceable possession of what he is seeking; and thus the promise is in part accomplished.
2. Victory and a full conquest over the flesh, and lusts thereof, is not promised to any believer, at his first appearing in the fields to fight; nor granted to all in any measure, at their first putting on their armour.
3. Therefore it is thy part to fight on, and wait for that full victory, viz. that sin shall not have dominion over thee, for it shall come in due time.
4. God hath his own time and seasons wherein he accomplisheth his promises; and we must leave him a latitude, both as to the time when, and as to the manner how, and as to the degree in which he shall make good his promises; and he is wise in his dispensations.
Therefore, though the promise as yet appeareth not to be accomplished, there is no true cause of trouble of mind, because it shall be afterward fully accomplished; and the wrestling against sin, saith that it is in great measure accomplished already; because where it hath a full dominion, it suppresseth all opposition or contradiction, except some faint resistance, which a natural conscience, for carnal ends, on carnal principles and grounds, may, now or then, make against this or that particular corruption, which occasioneth shame, disgrace, loss, challenges of a carnal conscience, and disquietness that way, when yet it is not hated nor wrestled against as sin, or as a member of the old man, and the body of death. The objector would consider, that having subjected his consent to Christ, he is delivered really from that natural state of bondage under sin as a lawful lord, howbeit the old tyrant, now wanting a title, is making new invasions, to trouble the peace and quiet of the soul.
Fourthly, It may be said, but what can then, in the mean time, keep up the heart of a poor soul from sinking?
Ans. Several things, if rightly considered, might help to support the soul in this case, as,
1. That they are helped to wrestle against this body of death, in all the members of it, so soon as they discover themselves, were it their right eye and right hand.
2. That these lusts gain not ground upon them; or if they do seem to gain ground, yet they attain not to a full dominion, not gaining their consent.
3. That God is faithful, and therefore the promised victory shall be had in due time, and Satan's head shall certainly be bruised.
4. That the wrestling soul is about his duty, carrying as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, fighting the battles of the Lord, and waiting on him in faith and hope.
But further, fifthly, some may say, If I were kept from yielding, my wrestling and standing would yield me some comfort; but when lust so stirreth, as that it conceiveth and bringeth forth sin, (James i.15,) what can support or comfort me then?
Ans. 1. Corruption cannot stir in us, but therein we sin, for the very first rise, the motus primo-primi, as they are called, are sinful, being contrary to the holy law of God; and the very in-being of that old man is our sin; for it is sinful, and rebellious against God, yea it is very enmity and rebellion itself. When Satan cometh with a temptation from without, he findeth always much in us to entertain the temptation. So that the very stirring of corruption, which is occasioned by the temptation from without, is our guilt.
2. It is true it is our duty, to set against the first risings and motions of corruption, when it first enticeth, before it hath conceived or brought forth sin; and it will argue grace in life and in action, to be able to hinder the motions of lust so far, that it shall not conceive and bring forth sin. Yet we may not say, that there is no grace in the soul, or no measure of mortification attained, where lust sometimes not only enticeth, but conceiveth and bringeth forth sin. The sad experience of many of God's worthies, registrated in the word, cleareth this abundantly. We must not say, such an one is fallen, therefore he is dead. Paul reasoneth otherways, Rom. vii.
3. Yet even then, when lust conceiveth and bringeth forth sin, this may comfort and bear up the heart of a poor believer. (1.) That though corruption prevail so far, as to bear down all opposition, and run down all that standeth in its way, yet it getteth not the full consent of the soul: there is still a party for God in the soul, that opposeth so far as to protest against it, or at least to dissent from it, and not to will that which yet is done, and positively to will that which cannot be gotten effectuated, (2.) And further, this may bear up the poor soul, that there is a party within, which, though for a time, during the violent overrunning of corruption, can do little more than sigh and groan in a corner, yet is waiting and longing for an opportunity when it may appear more for God, and against that wicked usurper. (3.)So also this may comfort the poor soul, that as it perceiveth corruption stirring, and the old man moving one member or other, it runneth away to the king; and when it is not able to apprehend the traitor, and take him captive to the court of justice, doth there discover the traitor, and tell the king that there is such or such a traitor acting such and such rebellion against him and his laws, and complain and seek help to take the rebel prisoner, and bring him bound hand and foot to the king, that he may give out sentence against him; that is, when he can do no more against that raging enemy, maketh his complaint to the Lord, and lieth before him, sighing and groaning for help and strength to withstand and oppose more this enemy.
Lastly, Some may yet object, and say, If it were not worse with me than it is with others, I could then be satisfied; but I see some mightily prevailing over corruption, and I am still at under, and can get no victory; and can I choose but be sad at this?
I answer, 1. Dost thou know for a certainty, that those persons whose condition thou judgest happy, are altogether free of the inward stirrings of those lusts that thou art brought under by? Or dost thou know for a certainty that they are not under the power of some other corruption, as thou thinkest thyself under the power of that corruption whereof thou complainest? What knowest thou, then, but they may be as much complaining on other accounts as thou dost on that?
2. But be it so as thou supposeth, that there is a difference betwixt thy condition and the condition of others, knowest thou not, that all the members of the body are not alike great and strong, as not being equally to be employed in work requiring strength. Are there not some young strong men in Christ's family, and some that are but babes? May not a captain send some of his soldiers to one post, where they shall possibly not see the enemy all the day long, and some others to another post, where they shall have no rest all the day? And why, I pray, may not God dispose of his soldiers as he will? He knoweth what he is doing: It is not safe that every one of the soldiers know what are the designs of the commander or general; nor is it always fit for us to know or to inquire what may be the designs of God with us, and what he may be about to do. He may intend to employ one in greater works than another, and so exercise them otherways for that warfare and work. It may suffice that the prevailing of others may encourage thee to hope, that at last thy strong corruptions shall also fall by the hand of the grace of God.
3. If thy sadness savour not of envy and fretting, thou should bless him that hereby thou art put to the exercise of spiritual sorrow.
4. It is well if this bring thee to bless God for the success of others, because hereby his grace is glorified, 1 Cor. xii.26.
Therefore, 5. Let this satisfy us, That he is the Lord, who doeth what he will in heaven and in earth, and may dispose of us as he will, and make of us what he will, for his own glory. And that we are to mind our duty, and be faithful at our post, standing and fighting in the strength of the Lord, resolving never to comply with the enemy, and to rejoice in this, that the enemy is already conquered by the captain, and that we share in his victory, and that the very God of peace shall quickly bruise Satan under our feet, Rom. xvi.20.