It is shewn that in the person of a believer, there yet remains sin: Or whilst he lives in this world, the strife between the flesh and the spirit continues.
A justified person is represented by the scriptures, as one that does not commit sin; hence as innocent; and nevertheless also, as a sinner. St. John says ‘Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 1st epist. ch. 3, 9. This together with sundry other texts, that might be quoted prove that a regenerated person does not sin, because he is possessed of holy principles. But on the contrary we are also informed, that he is yet a sinner. Thus:— ‘For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh.) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me ; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ Rom. 7, 14-24. How plainly this proves, that no Christian is destitute of sinful propensities. Again— ‘If ye through the spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ ch. 8, 13. Now, an unregenerated person walks after the flesh, and is destitute of the Spirit; hence it is out of the question for him to mortify the deeds of the body. Only such in whom the Spirit dwells, can mortify the deeds of the flesh; hence none but the regenerated; consequently as they are to mortify the deeds of the flesh, it is evident that they must possess sinful desires. Again — ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.’ Gal. 5, 17. See Ps. 51, 10,11.
That the scriptures represent a justified person as being without sin, hence as holy; and yet also, as sinful and unholy, is no contradiction; because as these two distinct principles exist in him, it may with propriety be said, that according to the spirit, or the new man, he is without sin, and holy; but according to the flesh, or the old man, he is a sinner. Let it not be supposed that only the spirit, or new man dwells in the soul, whilst the flesh, or old man only exists in the natural body. It has already been shewn that the flesh, particularly when it is opposed to the spirit, signifies a wicked principle in the soul. Like thorns and wheat grow upon the same ground, even so the flesh, and the spirit both exist in the same soul of a justified person; and as the thorns grow naturally without any cultivation, even so this wicked principle is naturally in every man; and as the wheat only grows when the ground is properly cultivated, even so the spiritual, and holy principle is not naturally in the heart of any man; it is implanted by grace.
This new principle called the spirit does not choose, nor desire any thing, but what is good, and holy, because it delights in the law of God. Although the soul of a believer be brought into captivity by sin, it cannot be said that he according to the new man consents to the same; hence in this respect it is true, that he does not sin wilfully. But according to the flesh, he wishes and desires to sin. Hence it is erroneous when some men affirm, that a regenerated person in no respect sins wilfully. They admit he sins, but not wilfully. Such as speak in this manner, do not properly understand wherein a sin consists. Without a choice, hence a will, there could neither be a sin, nor a virtue. A lawful choice is a virtue, and an unlawful choice is a vice. If there could be either virtue, or vice, without a free choice, then an unreasonable beast might also either be virtuous, or vicious. But as it would be absurd to ascribe virtue, or vice to a beast, it is evident that there can be no sin without a will; hence to say, that a man sins, but not wilfully, is a proposition which contradicts itself: for if the choice be taken away, the idea either of vice, or virtue must vanish. To sin without a will, is the same as to say a man does not sin at all.
The spirit is opposed to the flesh; yet the flesh is not so easily, nor immediately eradicated. The apostle says ‘they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts’ Gal. 5. 24. To express the opposition against the flesh, he employs the metaphor of a crucifixion: i.e. he represents the flesh as an execrable malefactor, that is nailed to the cross by the spirit. To die on a cross, is no sudden, but a lingering death; as crucified persons may live sundry days, before they expire. Let no one therefore, suppose that because he has crucified his flesh, that it is already dead: for whilst such an idea is cherished, the world, and Satan, the foes to the new creature, may administer relief to the flesh, and preserve its life, and even succeed in liberating it from the cross, or from the state of its crucifixion. But whilst the saint watches the flesh, which is his nearest enemy; if through the Spirit he keeps it perpetually crucified; yet though it be not dead; yet is it in such a state, that it is slowly dying, and must necessarily at the saint’s exit, finally expire.
Again — ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.’ Rom. 6 6. By the body of sin, the apostle cannot mean a man’s natural body; because that is the workmanship of God, and though it must die; yet it shall rise again. It is peculiar to the apostle’s style, to call that which is composed of several members, a body. Thus he calls the church a body, because it is composed of many members. A body of sin must therefore, consist of many members; it is a close combination of all vices. Thus when pride, anger, idolatry, falsehood, envy, tyranny, hatred, malice, covetousness, &c. are linked together to obtain a carnal end, there is a body of sin, which contradicts divine holiness, justice, wisdom, goodness, and truth; hence it is something unclean, unreasonable, foolish, hurtful, and lying. Whilst sin is in a body, it is powerful, and the creature is necessarily subject to its dominion. But in a regenerated person the Spirit has destroyed the connexion, which vices naturally have with each other; hence the body is dissolved. It being dissolved, the creature is not under the necessity of serving sin. But as only the body of sin is destroyed, are yet the several members, though dislocated, in existence. Hence the regenerated person is not a slave to sin; but yet, is he not entirely destitute of it. Herein consists the difference between the worldling, and the child of God: the former is a slave to sin, the scope of his mind, is to do that which is vicious; but the latter is no slave to sin, the body of sin does not reign in him; but only its dislocated members move in him, and tempt him to do evil.
Although the saint according to the new man, is no sinner; yet is it a most pernicious doctrine which some men teach, viz: that a saint can, and must become so perfect, that he neither feels, nor does any sin. They frequently produce sundry texts, which represent the saint as perfect, and holy; and when they have done this, they imagine their doctrine is irrefragably established. All those texts prove that men, in so far they are saints: i, e. according to the spirit, are without sin; but they do not prove, that there is no flesh in the person of a believer. The texts which are already quoted, shew that there is the flesh, and the spirit in every believer.
Christ is an advocate with the Father for the believers, 1 John 2, 1. But if they in all respects were without sin, why would they need Christ’s advocacy? Such therefore who teach that a believer is without sin, must deny that Christ is an intercessor for his people. Nevertheless, some in order to escape this charge, have recourse to this shift: viz. that though there be nothing criminal in a Christian; yet there are sundry imperfections in his nature, which would not endure the strict scrutiny of the perfect law of God, which renders the advocacy of Christ necessary. What a glaring contradiction! Can they not see that whatever does not endure the strict scrutiny of the law, is contrary to it; and what is contrary to it, must be a sin? for sin is the transgression of the law. If those imperfections of which they speak, are not criminal, what a burlesque it would be to suppose Christ to plead for such! Christ is to intercede for imperfections, which are not criminal, hence for innocence! What an absurdity! Those proud, self important hypocrites, who vainly dream of being perfect, and without sin would rather either deny the intercession of Christ; or suppose which is the most absurd, that he pleads for what they wickedly call innocent failings, than they would own themselves as vile sinners. They know that they sometimes manifest anger, impatience, impertinent words, &c. but as they are determined to maintain the idea, that they feel no more sin, and are perfect, they justify themselves, saying, we know that we have some little failings, but we do not count them properly sins; hence not criminal, nor damnable. O generation of vipers! how will ye escape the damnation of hell! when ye deny your sins to be sins; when ye call that innocent, which is criminal, and mock Christ as an intercessor, in that ye will have him to intercede for innocent imperfections!!
If a believer were without sin, his nature would be thoroughly sanctified, and he would be altogether spiritual. Now that which is born of that which is spiritual, is also spiritual: for like engenders like; hence if believers were thus sanctified, the children they would beget, would also be holy and innocent. But is this the case? No. Their children are sinners. This plainly shews that their nature is yet sinful.
All believers must die. But why? The apostle says ‘If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin: but the spirit is life because of righteousness.’ Rom. 8, 10. Because of sin the body is dead; hence as believers die, it is evident that they are sinners.
Believers are commanded to pray, and particularly in the Lord’s prayer: ‘forgive us our trespasses.’ They also by prayer withstand the motions of the flesh. But what folly it would be, for an innocent, perfect creature, to pray for forgiveness; for divine assistance against the vile temptations of the flesh! When such men, who profess to be without sin, pray for pardon, they mock God; because a being who is without sin needs no pardon.
Since the scriptures shew that in a believer sin, or the flesh, is yet to be found, as well as the new spirit, there is no difficulty in harmonizing the diverse texts which represent him as being without sin, and yet being a sinner; because both are verified in the same person. In a believer darkness, and light are contending for victory; and if he persevere in striving against the flesh, light shall conquer, and he be crowned with heavenly diadems.
To teach that a believer may live without sin during his sublunary abode, is baneful, because such as believe it, and believe they are perfect, will not follow after holiness, and with them repentance is out of. the question: for what need they to follow after holiness, when they are already perfect? and why should they repent, when they are no sinners? It is calculated to lead to a direct denial of the office of Christ’s intercession: for what need would there be to plead for the innocent? Whatever doctrine sets aside any of Christ’s offices, is wicked and Antichristian.
Nothing is calculated to humble a saint more, than a lively sense of his natural corruption which remains in him. Though he may be assured that he is justified, and adopted as a child, and heir of God; yet this high, and glorious state, in the midst of a wicked world, does not elate him with pride: for he must yet daily feel the wicked flesh moving in his soul, and were it not for the Holy Ghost, crying in the heart Abba! or Father! to prevent him, would perpetrate the blackest crimes. Or were it not for the high-priestly prayers of Jesus, Satan would sift him, that his faith would fail, and he be thrust into desperation. This prevents him from thanking God that he is so far superior in holiness to others; he is not like the silly, proud fools, who never enter into themselves to discover their own filth; but are constantly whining about the wickedness of other people.
There are many children of God, who are frequently seized with dreadful tears; because although they do their utmost to eradicate sin, by watching over themselves, and praying for succour; yet do they not see that they get freed from sin, yea it often appears as if it only abounded the more. But whilst they think that no one can be a child of God, as long as he feels sinful corruptions, their tears will not vanish. But let such consider: that the deeper root sanctification takes in the heart, the more the light of the Spirit increases; and the more that increases, the more of the wicked, inbred corruption will be discovered. Sin is not as strong in them, as it was before; but only the lively view of it makes it appeal as it they did not increase in sanctification; and as an enemy never fights harder than when he is violently opposed; even so we need not think it strange, that when we through the spirit assail the flesh, that it should not collect all its powers for so important a contest, to struggle for life, and attempt to alarm the new creature. The soul that feels no more sin, is full of darkness, and has made a league with the enemy. When those terrified believers compare themselves with the perfect law of God, they discover so many defects in themselves, that they hear its loud thunders of damnation; whilst they are impugned by Satan, who whispers to them: “if ye were saints, ye would feel no sin: for how can sin dwell in a holy person; if ye were heirs of heaven, ye should never be disturbed, but would always abound with felicity; hence it is evident ye are forsaken of God, in whom ye vainly attempt to confide!” But let such souls be comforted. Let them make an able defence. Let them say O good and holy law! we confess that we are guilty, and if we could not enter a valid plea against thy demands, we would have to despair.—But look O righteous law! on mount Calvary there under thy sentence, the filial Godhead incarnate, groaned, bled, and expired, to redeem us, thy demands were amply satisfied; therefore if thou wilt not cease to condemn us, we will arraign thee for demanding more than what is just: for is it not sufficient, that we were once punished in the person of Christ? Further—O law ! behold at the right of the Father, sits Jesus our advocate; deny and make void if thou canst his all powerful mediatorial plea; and then thou mayest condemn, and hurl us into perdition; but whilst thy justice cannot deny this plea, thou must leave us in heavenly security. And as for thee O Satan! thou accusest us in vain; thy suggestion is false: for thou thyself art the prototype of all sinners and lies; thou art an outlaw; hast been hurled from heaven, and condemned by divine justice, to suffer eternal damnation. If sin did not dwell in us whilst we are in this world, we should not live by faith in Christ; but by the deeds of the law, hence by our own righteousness: thus it is not inconsistent for sin to be in such a saint, who daily lives by a Saviour.
Under heavy temptations the believer is frequently not able to pray with words; yet the pledge of his adoption, the Holy Ghost, cries in his heart Abba, Father. ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.’ Rom. 8, 26. Let the afflicted soul examine himself, whether there be not a latent desire, an almost unfelt panting after God, a wish for his assistance, and for the smiles of his countenance: for such a silent internal panting, is the most effectual cry of the Holy Ghost in behalf of the believer; and Cicero, and Demosthenes, could not rival its eloquence. O my soul! though assailed by terrors within, and temptations and persecution without; yet whilst this praying desire is in thee, thou hast the Holy Ghost, the pledge and witness of thine adoption.
The believer’s life is hid with Christ in God. Col. 3, 3. Though they live in this world; yet as the apostle says ‘our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’ Phil. 3, 20. It is a life by faith; and so it must needs be whilst they dwell in the body: but as soon as the body returns to dust, the soul will be in a glorious vision, and emancipated from all spiritual foes; and on the last day the body shall be raised, immortal, and full of felicity. ‘As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.’ Ps. 17, 15.