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If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
In order to the more full illustration of what is here asserted, I undertook to show-What things in us are sinful—That it is a gross self-deception in any of us to say, We have no sin-and, How it is to be understood that the truth is not in us, if we say this.
We have hitherto attended only to the first of these heads; or to the important and disputed question, What is sin ?
In general, it was said, agreeably to the answer in our shorter catechism, that sin is justly imputable to us, whenever we transgress any of the commandments of God: and also, whenever we are not perfectly conformed to the whole moral law, in our lives, and in our hearts.
More particularly, on the one hand, it was observed, that every forbidden action we do; every wicked word we speak; and every evil thought we indulge, or affection we feel, and every propensity of nature in us to any thing not perfectly right, is sin. On the
other hand, a more labored proof was attempted, that any want of conformity to the law of God, must be sinful, in creatures of our capacities, and under our obligations. That if we neglect, or imperfectly perform, any duty; if we have not the love of God in us, or are wanting in good will to our fellow-men; if we do not repent, or do not believe in Christ; or if we be destitute of, or deficient in, a right temper of mind in a word, unless we do perfectly well, and are perfectly good, so far sin lieth at our door.
I now proceed, and shall endeavor to show,
II. That if any of us say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. That is, if we think thus for so the apostle is certainly to be understood. We may deceive others, by saying what we know is false; but to believe a lie, being imposed upon by our own hearts, is self-deception.
Perhaps it may be thought, that no one will imagine concerning himself, what is here supposed; and therefore that the point now before us needs no proof, and will admit of little profitable enlargement. But it is really one of the most difficult points to establish, to the sensible conviction of every man's conscience. Not that there would be any difficulty in it, were it not a truth which is against every man, and which therefore every man will be against. Were it not that the hearts of men, which are full of pride and selfish partiality, will be ever ready to fill their heads with sophistical arguments in their own exculpation. Only exhibiting the general proofs that all men are sinners, which might soon be done, would consequentially prove, that any one must be self-deceived, who supposes he has no sin. But I shall be more particular : and attend to the several senses in which one may say this, and the several grounds on which it may be said. A man's meaning, when he says it, may be ; that he never has been guilty of any sin; or he may
mean only, that now he is free from all sin. And according to the different senses in which this is said, the grounds that men go upon in saying it will be different. We will go over the several grounds on which men may say this, in one or the other of these senses; and see if we cannot discover the fallacy of saying it in either sense, on any ground.
1. Some may say in their hearts that they have no sin, and never have had any, because they imagine that they have always meant well, and done the best they could. If they have not done so much as some others, it has been because of their want of talents, or of opportunities; and not because of any want of a willing mind. If they have sometimes dishonored God, or done hurt to their fellow-men, it was owing to ignorance, or to inadvertency, and not to any bad intention. They have always endeavored to do right, and can recollect few if any instances in which they have conducted much amiss. Thus it was with the young ruler who came running to Christ, and respectfully inquired of him what good thing he must do, that he might have eternal life. When our Saviour directed him to keep the commandments, and mentioned several of them, he readily replied, "All these have I observed from my youth up; what lack I yet?"
But if on this ground any say they have no sin, certainly they deceive themselves. "The commandment is exceeding broad." No man can think that he has never been guilty of any transgression of God's perfect law, nor of any want of conformity to it, when he rightly understands all that it forbids, and all that it requires. But unconvinced sinners have always some cloak for their sins. The present imperfect state of fallen man, is an excuse ever ready at hand. We know that we come short; and we know that we transgress: but who does not ? or how is it possible that such poor frail creatures should be as
holy as angels? "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." We wish to be perfect; but it is not`in our power. Thus men justify themselves. And they would indeed be altogether justifiable, were this truly the case. "If there be a willing mind, it is accepted," in all cases, "according to that a man hath." But that any imagine their wills or wishes are so good, can be owing only to the deceitfulness of sin. The want of a disposition, is all the inability we labor under to do whatever God requires of us. Paul says, indeed, he found a law that when he would do good, evil was present with him. This, however, was the law of sin-the remainder of depraved nature. His desire to do the whole will of God was sincere; but it was not perfect. He found much in himself that was contrary to it, whence he was often overcome by temptation. This he acknowledges to be sin that dwelt in him. He speaks of it as a crime, not
as an excuse.
But the heart which is desperately wicked, is deceitful above all things; who can know it? Those in whom its depravity is total, have often no real apprehension of its being depraved at all. Their impotency to that which is good, and to keep themselves from what is evil, they conceive to be in their heads, or hands, or feet; and know not that it is in their hearts. Hence they complain of it as a weakness, and do not condemn it as any wickedness.
Some, however, insist that their inability renders them excusable, let it be where it will, and what it will. If the seat of it be in their heart, they cannot help it. They were born with such depraved dispositions, and they are unable to alter them: how then is having them, or acting according to them, their fault? Just as if a bad heart were not at all blameable in itself. Just as if it were not our duty to do good, or to abstain from doing evil, any further than we have an inclination. Do we ever reason thus, except in our own case? Do we not always think others faulty