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God, and his thoughts taken up with vanity; upon which account it may be truly said, that his best works are not only imperfect, but defiled in the sight of God, who searcheth the heart, and observes the various steps by which it treacherously departs from him, and can find no way to recover itself till he is pleased to revive his work, take away the guilt which he has contracted, recover him out of the snare into which he has fallen, and so cause the work of grace again to flourish in the soul, as it has once done.
We shall conclude with some inferences from what has been said concerning the imperfection of sanctification in believers, together with the reasons and consequences thereof.
1. Since sinless perfection is not attainable in this life, we should from hence take occasion to give a check to our censorious thoughts concerning persons or things, so as not to determine persons to be in an unconverted state, because they are chargeable with many sinful infirmities, which are not inconsistent with the truth of grace: some abatements are to be made for their being sanctified but in part, and having the remnants of sin in them; and indeed, the greatest degree of grace which can be attained here, comes far short of that which the saints are arrived to in heaven; accordingly the difference between a believer and an unregenerate sinner is not in that one is perfect, and the other imperfect; for when we consider the brightest characters given of any in scripture, their blemishes as well as their graces are recorded; so that none but our Saviour could challenge the world to convict or reprove them of sin. The apostle speaks of Elias, as a man subject to like passions as we are, James v. 17. and he might have instanced in many others. Therefore, when we are sensible of our own imperfections, we ought to enquire, whether the spots we find in ourselves, are like the spots of God's children? or, whether these infirmities may be reckoned inconsistent with the truth of grace? which, if they be, though it affords matter for humiliation, that we are liable to any sinful failures, or defects; yet it will be some encouragement to us, and matter of thanksgiving to God, that notwithstanding this, our hearts are right with him. That we may be, in some measure, satisfied as to this matter, let it be considered,
[1.] That we must distinguish between a person's being tempted to the greatest sins, which are inconsistent with the truth of grace ; and his complying with the temptation. A temptation of this kind may offer itself, and at the same time grace may exert itself in an eminent degree, by the opposition that it makes to it, whether it arises from indwelling sin, or Satan.
[2.] When we read of some sins that are inconsistent with the truth of grace, such as those which the apostle speaks of, when he says, that neither fornicators nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. and elsewhere, the fearful and unbelieving, as well as those who are guilty of other notorious crimes, are said to have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, Rev. xxi. 8. We must distinguish between those who are guilty of these sins in a less degree than what is intended, when they are said to exclude from the kingdom of heaven ; and others being guilty thereof, in a notorious degree, with greater aggravations: Thus unbelieving fears in those who are called to suffer for Christ's sake, if they do not issue in a denial of him, are not altogether inconsistent with the truth of grace, though they render
a person guilty before God. And the least degree of covetousness, though it is not to be excused, yet it does
not exclude from the kingdom of heaven; but the prevailing love of the world, or the immoderate pursuit of it in those who use unlawful means to attain it, or have a rooted habitual desire after it, more than Christ, or put it in his room, this is to be reckoned a mark of unregeneracy.
[3.] We must distinguish between sinful infirmities and allowed infirmities, or such who sin through surprize, as being assaulted by an unforseen temptation, when not being on their guard; and the same sin committed with deliberation; the latter gives greater ground to fear that a person is in a state of unregeneracy than the former.
We must also distinguish between sins committed and repented of, with that degree of godly sorrow which is proportioned to their respective aggravations; and the same sins eommitted and continued in with impenitency; the latter gives ground to conclude, that a person is in an unconverted state, though not the former. And the difference arises not barely from the nature of the crimes, for we suppose the sins in themselves to be the same ; but from other evidences which a person has or has not of his being in a state of grace.
2. From what has been said concerning the opposition that there is between natural conscience and corrupt nature in the unregenerate, we may infer; that it is a great blessing to have a religious education, as it has a tendency to prevent many enormities, which others, who are destitute of it, run into: Accordingly they who have had this privilege ought to bless God for, and make a right improvement of it. But since those principles which take their rise from thence, are liable, without the grace of God prevent it, to be overcome and lost; let us press after something more than this, and be importunate with God,
whose providence has favoured us thus far, that he would give us a better preservative against sin, or that the prevailing pow: , er thereof may be prevented by converting grace.
3. From the opposition that corrupt nature makes in belie, vers to the work of grace, we may infer; that the standing of the best of men, or their not being chargeable with the great. est sins, is not so much owing to themselves as to the grace of God, by which we are what we are, and therefore the glory thereof belongs intirely to him; and that we have reason, when we are praying against our spiritual enemies, to beg that God would deliver us from the greatest of them, namely, ourselves ; and that he, who has a sovereignty over the hearts of all men, and can govern and sanctify their natural tempers and dispositions, would keep us from being drawn aside thereby. This should also induce us to walk watchfully, and to be always on our guard, depending on the grace of God for help, that indwelling sin may not so far prevail as to turn aside and alienate our affections from him.
. 4. From what has been said concerning the flesh and spirit prevailing by turns, we infer the uncertainty of the frame of our spirits, and what changes we are liable to, with respect to the actings of grace, or the comforts that result from it. This somewhat resembles the state of man as subject to various changes, with respect to the dispensations of providence; sometimes lifted up, at other times cast down, and not abiding long in the same condition : Thus we are enabled, at some times, to gain advantage over indwelling sin, and enjoy the comforts which arise from thence ; at other times, when the flesh prevails, the acts of grace are interrupted, and its comforts, almost, if not entirely lost. What reason have we therefore to bless God, that though our graces are far from being brought to perfection, and our frames so various ; yet he has given us ground to conclude, that grace shall not wholly be lost, and we are assured, that our state, as we are justified, is not liable to the same uncertainty, so that that which interrupts the progress of sanctification, does not bring us into an unjustified state, or Tender us liable to condemnation?
5. From the inconveniences we sustain by the flesh prevailing against the spirit, as we are foiled by temptation, fall into sing and are hindered in spiritual services, we infer the great hurt that sin does to those who are in a justified and sanctified state, as well as to others, who are under the dominion of it. And therefore it is a vile and unwarrantable way of speaking which some use, who say, that because nothing shall separate them from the love of Christ, or bring them who are justified, back again into an unjustified state, that therefore sin can do them no hurt ; as though all the consequences of the prevalency of VOL. III.
corrupt nature, and the dishonour we bring to God, and the guilt we contract hereby, could hardly be reckoned prejudicial; but this is such a way of speaking as confutes itself in the opinion of all judicious and sober Christians.
Again, we might also infer, from the consequences of the prevalency of corruption, as we are liable hereby to be discour. aged from, or hindered in the performance of duty ; that we ought, if we find it thus with us, to take occasion from hence to enquire, whether some secret sin be not indulged and entertained by us, which gives occasion to the prevalency of corrupt nature, which we ought to be humbled for. Or if we have lived in the omission of those duties which are incumbent on us, or have provoked God to leave us to ourselves, and so have had an hand in our present evils ; this affords matter of great humiliation. And we ought to be very importunate with God for restoring grace, not only that our faith may not fail; but that we may be recovered out of the snare in which we are en. tangled, and may be brought off victorious over all our spirits ual enemies.
Quest. LXXIX. May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the
and sins they are overi taken
with, fall away from the state of grace? Answ. True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of
God, and his decree and covenant to give them perseve. rance, their inseparable union with Christ, his continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation.. i FT is natural for persons, when they enjoy any blessing, to
be solicitous about their retaining it ; otherwise the pleasure that arises from it; if it is like to be short and transitory, is rather an amusement than a solid and substantial happiness. The same may be said of those graces and privileges which believers are made partakers of, as the fruits and effects of the death of Christ: These are undoubtedly the most valuable blessings; therefore it highly concerns us to enquire; whether we may assuredly conclude, that we shall not lose them, and eo fail of that future blessedness which we have had so delightsul a prospect of?
The saints' perseverance lias not only been denied by many since the reformation, and, in particular, by Papists, Socinians, and Remonstrants: But by the Pelagians of old; and all those
whose sentiments bear some affinity to, or are derived from their scheme. And, indeed, when we find persons endeavouring to establish the doctrine of conditional election, universal redemption, &c. or when they explain the nature of human liberty, as they do, who make the grace of God to be dependent on it for its efficacy in the beginning and carrying on the work of conversion and sanctification; and accordingly assert, that the will has an equal power to determine itself to good ot evil; or, that the grace of God affords no other assistance to promote the cne or fence against the other, than what is objective, or, at least, by supporting our natural faculties; and if there be any divine concourse, that it consists only in what respects the external dispensations of providence, as a remote means conducive thereunto, the event hereof depending on our own conduct or disposition to improve these means: I say, if persons maintain these and such-like doctrines, it is not to be wondered, when we find them pleading for the possibility of a believer's falling totally and finally from the grace of God. For they who have brought themselves into a state of grace, may apostacize, or fall from it. If the free-will of man first inclined itself to exercise those graces which we call special, such as faith, repentance, love to God, &c. then it win follow, that he may lose them and relapse to the contrary vices; and by this means men may plunge themselves into the same depths of sin and misery from whence they had before escaped ; and, according to this scheme, there may be, in the course of our lives, a great many instances of defection from the grace of God, and recovery to it, and finally, a drawing back unto perdition : Or if a person be so happy as to recover himself out of his last apostacy before he leaves the world, then he is saved ; otherwise he finally perishes. This is a doctrine which some defend, the contrary whereunto we shall endeavour to maintain, as being the subject insisted on in this answer.
But before we proceed to the defence thereof, it may not de amiss to premise something, which may have, at least, a remote tendency to dispose us to receive conviction from the arguments which may be brought to prove it. Thus we may consider that the contrary side of the question is in itself less desirable, if it could be defended." It is certain, that the doctrine of the possibility of the saints falling from grace, tends very much to abate that delight and comfort which the belie'ver has in the fore-views of the issue and event of his present state. It is a very melancholy thought to consider, that he who is now advanced to the very borders of heaven, may be cast down into hell ; or that, though he has at present an interest in the special and discriminating love of God, he may afterwards become the object of his hatred, so as never to be