LAST CHECK TO ANTINOMIANISM.
An answer to the arguments by which the imperfectionists support the doctrine of the necessary indwelling of sin in all believers till they go into the death purgatory. THE pleasing effect of the light in a picture, is considerably heightened by the bold opposition of strong shades: if the preceding arguments are the lights by which we hope agreeably to strike the mental eyes of the reader, who candidly considers the doctrine of Christian perfection, it will not be improper to heighten those lights by the amazing contrast of the arguments which our opponents advance in defence of indwelling sin and Christian imperfection. These arguments appear to us shadesbold, logical shades: but the bolder they are, the more they will set off the lustre of the truth which we recommend; for, if "all things work for good to them that love God," why should not all the errors of others work for good to them that love the truth? I am abundantly furnished with the erroneous shades I want, by three of the most approved authors, who support the ark of the imperfect gospelthe Rev. Mr. Toplady, author of the "Historic Proof of Calvinism;" the Rev. Mr. Martin, author of several tracts which are esteemed by the Calvinists; and the Rev. Mr. Henry, famous for his voluminous Exposition of the Bible.
The first of these authors, in his "Caveat against Unsound Doctrine," intimates that there never were on earth but three persons possessed of the sinless perfection which we contend for; Adam, Eve, and Jesus Christ: a bold intimation this, which, like the Babel I attack, has its foundation in confusion,in the confusion of three perfections which are entirely different; the paradisiacal sinless perfection of our first parents; the mediatorial, sinless perfection of Jesus Christ; and the Christian, evangelically sinless perfection of St. John. This intimation is supported by some passages from Solomon, which have been already considered in section xi, and by the following argument:
ARGUMENT I. "A person of the amplest fortune cannot help the harbouring of snakes, toads, &c, on his lands; but they will breed, and nestle, and crawl about his estate, whether he will or no. All he can do is, to pursue and kill them, whenever they make their appearance. Yet, let him be ever so vigilant and diligent, there will always be a succession of those creatures, to exercise his patience and engage his industry. So it is with the true believer, in respect to indwelling sin." (Caveat against Unsound Doctrines, page 54.) To this we answer:
1. From the clause which I produce in Italics in this argument, one would think that patience and industry cannot be properly exercised without indwelling sin; if so, does it not follow that our Lord's patience and industry always wanted proper exercise, because he was always perfectly free from indwelling sin? We are of a different sentiment with respect to our Lord's Christian virtues; and we apprehend that the patience and industry of the most perfect believer will always, without the opposition of indwelling sin, find full exercise in doing and suffering the whole will of God; in keeping the body under; in striving against the sin of others; in testifying, by word and deed, that the works of the world are evil; in resisting the numberless temptations of him, who "goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour;" and in preparing to conflict with the king of terrors.
2. Why should not assiduous vigilance clear an estate of snakes, as one of our kings cleared Great Britain of wolves? Did he not attempt and accomplish what appeared impossible to less resolute minds? Mr. Toplady is too well acquainted with the classics not to know what the heathens themselves have said of industry and love;
Omnia vincit amor. Labor improbus omnia vincit:
if "love and incessant labour overcome the greatest difficulties," what cannot a diligent believer do, who is animated by the love of God, and feels that he "can do all things through Christ who strengthens him?"
3. But the capital flaw of Mr. Toplady's argument consists in so considering the weakness of free will, as entirely to leave God and the sanctifying power of his Spirit out of the question. That gentleman forgets, that, "for this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." Nor does he consider, that a worm, assisted by Omnipotence itself, is capable of the greatest achievements. Of this we have an illustrious instance in Moses, with respect to the removal of the lice, the frogs, and the locusts. "Moses entreated the Lord, and the Lord turned a mighty, strong west wind, which took away the locusts, and cast them into the Red Sea; there remained not one locust in all the coasts of Egypt," Exodus x, 19. If Mr. Toplady had not forgot the mighty God, with whom Moses and believers have to do, he would never have supposed that the comparison holds good between CHRIST "cleansing the thoughts and hearts of a praying believer by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit," and a MAN, who can by no means destroy the snakes and toads that breed, nestle, and crawl about his estate.
4. The reverend author of the "Caveat" sinks in this argument even below the doctrine of heathen moralists. For, suppose the extirpation of a vicious habit were considered, would not a heathen be inexcusable, if he overlooked the succour and inspiration of the Almighty? And what shall we say of a Gospel minister, who, writing upon the destruction of sin, entirely overlooks what at other times he calls the sovereign, matchless, all-conquering, irresistible power of Divine grace, which (if we believe him) is absolutely to do all in us and for us; who insinuates, that the toad pride, and the viper envy, must continue to nestle and crawl in our breasts for want of ability to destroy them; and who concludes that the extirpation of sin is impossible, because we cannot bring it about by our own strength? Just as if the power of God, which "helps our infirmities," did not deserve a thought! Who does not see, that when a divine argues in this manner, he puts his bushel upon the light of Christ's victorious grace, hides this sin-killing and heart-cleansing light, and then absurdly concludes that the darkness of sin must necessarily remain in all believers? Thus, if I mistake not, it appears, that Mr. Toplady's argument, in favour of the death purgatory, is contrary to history, experience, and Gentilism; and how much more to Christianity, and to the honour of Him who "to the uttermost saves his believing people from their" heart toads and bosom vipers, when they go to him for this great salvation!
The next author who shall furnish me with logical shades, is the ingenious and Rev. Mr. Martin, who has just published a plea for the necessary indwelling of sin in all believers. He calls it, "The Christian's peculiar Conflict, an essay on Galatians v, 17:" and from it I extract the arguments which follow:
ARG. II. (15, &c.) "O ye vain boasters of inherent perfection, say, where is the man among you to be found, who always doth the things that he would? If there be one who has this pre-eminence among his brethren, why should his name be concealed? Is he a preacher? and dare he assert he has, at all times, that discovery of the truth to his own soul he could wish, &c. Is he a private Christian? and will he venture to declare that in every character he sustains, &c, he continually acts not only the conscientious part, but in every respect fulfils the desire of his mind? What! does he hesitate? Is he afraid to attest this in the presence of a heart-searching God? How deceitful then is his confidence! &c. Strange infatuation! If he cannot at all times do the things, the good things that he would, can he suppose his best desires are more extensive than that law which is exceeding broad? &c. If he can be so vain as to suppose this, there is more hope of a fool than of him who is so wise in his own conceit. If he disowns the inference, and yet maintain his premises, that he is perfect, i.e. without sin, has ceased to commit iniquity, what is the conclusion? I am obliged to conclude that perfection and imperfection, things as contrary to each other as light and darkness, are with such a deluded person considered as one and the same thing."
This argument, stript of its rhetorical ornaments, and put into a plain logical dress, runs thus:
"When Christians do not do all the good things which they desire to do, they sin, or break God's law, which is purer and broader than their desires: but the best ministers, and the best private Christian, do not do all the good things which they desire to do: and therefore the best ministers, and the best private Christians sin, and their sinless perfection is an empty boast." We may bring the argument into a still narrower compass, thus: "All deficiencies are sinful, and therefore inconsistent with every kind of perfection." Now this proposition, which is the basis of the whole argument, has error for its foundation. Granting that deficiencies are inconsistent with the absolute will of God, and with the perfection of his boundless power, I affirm four things, each of which, if I mistake not, overturns our objector's argument:
1. The separate "spirits of just men made perfect" are perfectly sinless; nevertheless, they "do not do all the good that they would;" for they have not yet prevailed to get the blood of God's martyrs avenged: a display of justice this, which they ardently wish for. And I prove it by these words of St. John:"I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge, and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth!" Rev. vi, 9. Had they done what they wished, i.e. actually prevailed with God, their prayer would have been immediately turned into praises, and persecutors would long ago have been rooted out from the earth.
2. For want of infinite wisdom, does not perfect love in finite creatures frequently desire to do more for its object than it can? When "Michael fought with the dragon," is it not highly probable that he lovingly desired to hinder his cruel adversary from doing any farther mischief? But did not his performance fall short of his pious, resigned desire? May not this be said also of the guardian care of the angels, who minister to the heirs of salvation? Do these loving spirits afford us all the help, or procure us all the bliss, which their tender compassion prompts them to wish us? If not, is it not absurd to suppose that, barely on this account, they are sinfully imperfect? Nay, would it not be a high degree of rashness and injustice to insinuate that they are transgressors of God's spiritual law; and that his commandment, which is broader than their desires, is broken by their not doing us all the good which they desire to do us, and which they would actually do us, if a wise Providence had not set bounds to their commission? Does not this unscriptural, Calvinian legality put the stamp of sinfulness upon all angels and archangels, merely to keep in countenance the Antinomian doctrine of the necessary sinfulness of all believers?
3. If we consider our Lord himself as a man, did he do all the good he would while he was upon earth? Did he preach as successfully as his perfect love made him desire to do? If he had all the success he desired in his ministry, why did he "look round upon his hearers with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts?" Why did he weep and complain, "How often would I have gathered you, &c, and ye would not?" Were even his private instructions so much blessed to his own disciples as he could have wished? If they were, what meant these strange expostulations, "How is it that ye have no faith? Faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? Hast thou been so long time with me, Philip, and yet hast thou not known me? Will ye also go away?"
Nay, had not Christ his innocent infirmities too? Did he not shudder at the prospect of the cup of trembling? Needed he not the "strengthening support of an angel in the garden of Gethsemane?" Did he not "offer up prayers, with strong cryings and tears, unto Him that was able to save him from death? Was he not heard in that he feared?" Heb. v, 7. Did he not innocently cry out upon the cross, "My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?" And does not the apostle observe, that "we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but [one who] was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin?" Heb. iv, 15. When our opponents, therefore, confound sin with natural, innocent infirmities, or with our not doing all the good we would, do they not inadvertently fix a blot upon the immaculate character of Him who could say, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?"
4. My pious opponent wishes, no doubt, to praise God as perfectly as an angel; while an angel probably desires to do it as completely as an archangel; but in the nature of things this cannot be. Thousands of God's moral vessels, which are perfect in their place and degree, and as such adorn God's universal temple, fall short of each other's perfection without being sinfully imperfect on that account. When deficiencies are natural, and not moral, if we call them sin, in many cases we charge God with the creation of sin. Nor is it any more sin in a man not to magnify God so vigorously as an angel, or in an angel not to serve his Creator so perfectly as an archangel, than it is a sin in a good soldier not to do the king such excellent service as an experienced captain, or a consummate general. In the moral world, as well as in the natural, "one star may differ from another star in glory," without the least disparagement to its peculiar perfection. The injudicious refinements of Calvinism make a confused jumble of God's works, as they do of God's truth, and of the various perfections which belong to the various classes of his children: but a wise dispenser of the word will do by those various truths and perfections as Joseph did by his brothers: "He placed them the first born according to his birthright, [or superiority,] and the youngest according to his youth" [or inferiority.]
5. We are not ashamed to assert that perfection in one respect, and imperfection in another respect, may consistently meet in the same subject; or that men and things may be perfect in one sense and imperfect in another. If our opponents ridicule us for it, we will present them with an ocular, and by no means "metaphysical" demonstration of their mistake. Two perfect grains, the one of barley, and the other of wheat, lie before us. I say with the perfectionists that the grain of barley is perfect in its kind, but imperfect, or inferior in excellence, when it is compared to the grain of wheat. But Mr. Martin, at the head of the imperfectionists, thinks me deluded, and placing himself in his judgment seat, gravely says, "I am obliged to conclude that perfection and imperfection, things as contrary to each other as light and darkness, are with such a deluded person considered as one and the same." "Some are so unaccountably absurd and ridiculous." Reader, thou art judge and jury: pronounce which of the two deserves best this imputation of "unaccountable absurdity,"the author of this Essay, or that of the "Essay on Gal. v, 17."
6. With respect to this gentleman's triumphant question, "Where is the (perfect) man? Why should his name be concealed?" I hope it has already been satisfactorily answered in sec. iv, arg. xii. To what is advanced there, I add here the following remark:Inveterate prejudice is blind. If it believe not reason, Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, "neither would it be persuaded though one rose from the dead." And were we to point out a person as perfect as Jesus of Nazareth, and to say, "Behold the man!" I should not wonder if the prepossessed professors cried out, as some ancient engrossers of orthodoxy did, "He is a deceiver of the people, teaching perfection throughout all Jewry." And if they did not say, "He is the friend of publicans and sinners, away with him!" it is not improbable they would say, "He is a friend of the Pharisees and Arminians, why do you hear him? Would ye also be his disciples?" It is in vain to hope that prejudice expired with those who scoffed at perfection incarnate, and spit in the face of Jesus Christ, "thinking to do God and the Messiah. service." Man is man in London, as well as in Jerusalem. Our author goes on:
ARG. III. Page 18. "It is not more essential to those who are partakers of the grace of God in truth, to desire this, [the destruction of sin,] than it is for every creature, as such, to desire an exemption from pain and shame." Then follows a dangerous insinuation, that we must say by the cup of indwelling sin, as our Saviour did by the cup of pain and shame: "The cup that my Father giveth me, shall I not drink of it?"
ANSWER. Never was a cup of subtle poison more artfully mixed! And that the reader may not suspect any mischief, the author borrows the very cup which our heavenly Father presented to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane; a cup of pain and shame. Reader, examine this cup, before thou drink it. Death is in it. Pour out the new wine, which makes the poison it contains palatable, and at the bottom thou wilt find this mortal sediment:"It is as absurd absolutely to desire deliverance from sin in this life, as absolutely to desire deliverance from pain and shame." To discover the falsehood of this proposition we need only weigh the following remarks:(1.) Man mixed for himself the moral cup of sin, and God, to punish him, mixed the natural cup of pain and shame. (2.) It is excessively wrong so to confound moral and natural evil, as to say that, because we cannot with any propriety absolutely pray for deliverance from all natural evil in this life, we ought not absolutely to ask and expect deliverance from all moral evil before death. (3.) When the imperfectionists confound the moral cup of sin, with the natural cup of shame and pain, they are as grossly mistaken, as if they confounded poison, and counter-poison; sin, and its punishment; the murderer's revengeful heart, and the gallows on which he is hanged. (4.) Shame and pain, when they are appointed for a trial of faith, and endured for righteousness' sake, compose the last and greatest of all the beatitudes; a beatitude this, of which our Lord drank so deeply, when, "for the joy that was set before him, he endured the pain, and despised the shame of the cross," Heb. xii, 2. But where was indwelling sin ever ranked among the ingredients which compose the beatitudes, that our opponents should thus confound it with pain and shame? (5.) When they insinuate that we must bear with sin as patiently as with pain and shame, the moral cup of indwelling iniquity as readily as the natural cup of outward affliction, do they not grossly confound "the cup of devils" with "the cup of the Lord," and make the simple believe that because we must patiently drink the latter with Christ, we must also patiently drink the former with Belial? The Captain of our salvation bids us "rejoice and be exceeding glad," when we patiently suffer pain and shame for righteousness' sake; therefore absolutely to deprecate all pain and shame would be to pray against our "exceeding great joy;" yea, against "our reigning with Christ:" for, only "if we suffer, shall we also reign with him." But where does Christ bid us "rejoice and be exceeding glad" when we are full of indwelling sin? Or where does he promise that if we harbour indwelling sin, "we shall also reign with him?" Christians, awake! We pour out this rank poison before you, that you may advert to its offensive smell. While rash Solifidians gather it up, as if it were the honey of Canaan; boldly trample it under foot, and be ye more and more persuaded that righteousness Calvinistically imputed, and indwelling sin, are the two arms in which the Delilah of the imperfectionists clasps her deluded admirers.
Page 31. Our ingenious author proposes an important question:"If the grace of God," says he, "be so abundant as the Scriptures represent it, (and the Scripture cannot be broken,) why are believers permitted to struggle so long for that victory they cannot yet obtain?" that victory which death is to bring them? "Whence is it that they, who pant for purity, should not immediately obtain a request so desirable?" For our author lays it down as an undoubted truth, that "flesh and spirit mutually lust, desire, and strive to obtain a complete conquest, but at present, [i.e. in this life,] neither can prevail." (p. 26.)
This important question we answer thus:Imperfect Christians do not attain perfect purity of heart, (1.) Because they do not see the need of it; because they still hug some accursed thing, or because the burden of indwelling sin is not yet become intolerable to them. They make shift to bear it yet, as they do the toothache, when they are still loath to have a rotten tooth pulled out. (2.) If they are truly willing to be made clean, they do not yet believe that the Lord both can and will make them clean; or that "now is the day of this salvation." And, as faith inherits the promises of God, it is no wonder if their unbelief miss this portion of their inheritance. (3.) If they have some faith in the promises that the Lord can and will "circumcise their hearts, that they may love him with all their hearts;" yet it is not that kind or degree of faith which makes them completely willing to sell all, to deny themselves, faithfully to use their inferior talent, and to continue instant in prayer for this very blessing. In short, "they have not, because they ask not," which is the case of the Laodicean imperfectionists; or "because they ask amiss," which is the case of the imperfect perfectionists. (4.) Frequently also they will receive God's blessing in their own preconceived method, and not in God's appointed way. Hence God suspends the operation of his sanctifying Spirit, till they humbly confess their obstinacy and false wisdom, as well as their unbelief, and want of perfect love. Thus we clear our sanctifier, and take the shame of our impurity to ourselves. Not so our opponents. They exculpate themselves, and insinuate that God has appointed the necessary continuance of indwelling sin in us for life, that the conflict which we maintain with that enemy may answer excellent ends. Their arguments, collected in the above-quoted "Essay," are produced and answered in the following pages:
ARG. IV. Page 37, &c. "By this warfare the Lord manifests and magnifies himself to his people; and, if I am not mistaken, &c, the continuance of it is a mean by which believers have such views of the perfections and glory of God, as it does not seem to us probable they could here obtain without it." Then our author instances in God's "unchanging love toward the elect," and in his "sovereign grace, that reigns through righteousness to the salvation of the guilty." He next observes that "those believers who are most conscious of this internal conflict; most sensible of the power and prevalency of indwelling sin. are most thankful that the endearing declarations of God's distinguishing love are true." And, pp. 39, 40, we are distinctly told that the doctrine of the necessary continuance of indwelling sin magnifies "the power and patience of God; the power of God to support us under this conflict, and his patience in bearing with our manifold weakness and ingratitude." For, great as the burden of our ingratitude is, "yet he fainteth not, neither is he weary."
This is an extract of our author's argument, which, like a snake, works its way through verbose windings, where I have not leisure to follow it. Crush this snake, and out will come this less viper: "The longer sin continues in us, the more God's sovereign love, grace, power, and patience, by which he saves guilty, weak, and ungrateful sinners, is manifested unto us." Or, if you please, "The longer we continue in sin, or the longer sin continues in us, the more is grace manifested and magnified." Or, if you will speak as the apostolic controvertist, "Let us continue in sin that grace may abound." A notion this, which is the very soul of Antinomianism unmasked.
To fill the pious reader with a just detestation of this doctrine, I need only unfold it thus: if the continuance of indwelling sin magnifies God's sovereign grace and patience, in saving ungrateful sinners; the continuance of outward sin will do this much more: for the greater our outward sins are, the greater will God's patience appear in bearing with us, and his grace in forgiving us; seeing "he fainteth not, neither is he weary." Thus we are come almost to the top of Antinomianism: and, to reach the highest step of the fatal ladder, we need only declare, as the author of the five letters has done, that "a grievous fall [into sin, such as adultery, robbery, murder, and incest,] will make us sing louder to the praise of restoring grace throughout all the ages of eternity." (See the fourth of those letters.) Now, if "a grievous fall" will infallibly have that happy effect, it follows that ten such fails will multiply ten times the display of God's power and patience. What a boundless field opens here, to run an Antinomian race, and to enlarge our wickedness as hell! What a ladder is here lent us to descend to the depth of the abomination of desolation, in order to reach the loudest notes of praise in heaven! If this Solifidian Gospel be not one of "the depths of Satan," and the greatest too, I am not capable of discerning midnight gloom from noon-day brightness.
ARG. V. Page 4. "To save the guilty in such a manner as, &c, effectually to humble them who are saved, displays the manifold wisdom of God. Does it not seem necessary, to attain that great end, to make believers experimentally 'know what an evil and bitter thing' sin is, &c? If so, when can the objects of salvation see this with becoming shame and sorrow? Not while they are 'in the gall of bitterness,' &c. For, in that state, 'so abominable is man, that he drinketh in iniquity like water.' On the other hand, this cannot be after they are brought to glory: for then all the painful and shameful memorials of sin will be finally removed. It must be while flesh and spirit dwell in the same man."
Granted; but what has this argument to do with the question? Did we ever deny that, as long as we live, we must repent, or be deeply conscious "what an evil and bitter thing" sin is? The question is, whether indwelling sin is the cause or source of true repentance, or an incentive to it; and whether God has appointed that this should remain in our hearts till death, lest we should forget "what an evil and bitter thing sin is," or lest we should not remember it "with becoming shame and sorrow?" The absurdity of this plea has already been exposed in sec. iii, obj. viii, ix. And, to the arguments there advanced, I now add those which follow: (1.) Does not experience convince imperfect believers, that the more fretfulness, self will, and obstinacy they have in their hearts, the less they do repent? How absurd is it then to suppose that the remains of these evil dispositions will help them to feel "becoming shame and sorrow" for sin! (2.) Do not our opponents tell their hearers that we get more becoming shame and sorrow by looking one moment "at Him whom we have pierced," than by poring upon our corruptions for an hour? If so, why will they plead for indwelling sin, that "becoming shame and sorrow" may abound? And why do they pretend that they exalt Christ more than we, who maintain that our most becoming shame and deepest sorrow flow from his ignominy and sufferings, and not from our indwelling sin, and conflicting corruptions? Did not Job "abhor himself and repent in dust and ashes," when he saw his redeeming God by faith, much more than when he just kept his head above the bitter waters of impatience and murmuring? (3.) The pleaders for the continuance of indwelling sin tell us, "that as the sight and attacks of a living and roaring lion will make us dread lions more than all the descriptions and pictures which represent their destructive fierceness; so the feeling the onsets of indwelling sin will make us abhor sin more than all the descriptions of its odious nature, and the accounts of its fearful consequences: because a burnt child naturally dreads the fire." To this we answer:A burnt child, who pleads for the keeping of a burning coal upon his breast to make him dread the fire, has hitherto been burned to little purpose. Who had ever less to do with indwelling sin, and its cursed attacks, than the holy Jesus, and faithful angels? And yet, who is more filled with a perfect abhorrence of all iniquity? On the other hand, who has been more distracted, and longer torn by indwelling sin, than the devil? And who, nevertheless, is better reconciled to it? Or, who is more plagued by the continual rendings and bitings of the lions and vipers within, than those passionate, revengeful people, who say, with all the positiveness of Jonah and Absalom, "I do well to be angry, and revenge is sweet?" Experience, therefore, demonstrates the inconclusiveness of this argument. (4.) If the penitent thief properly learned, in a few hours, "what an evil and bitter thing external and internal sin is," is it not absurd to suppose that he must have continued forty years full of indwelling sin to learn that lesson, if God had added forty years to his life? Would this delay have been to the honour of his Divine Teacher? Lastly: when Christ cast seven devils out of Mary Magdalene, did he leave one or two devils behind, to teach her "becoming shame and sorrow" for sin? And was it these two remaining "Diabolonians" that made her dissolve in tears at Christ's feet; or the grateful, penitential love which she felt for her gracious deliverer? Is it not astonishing that Gospel ministers should so far forget themselves and their Saviour as to teach, as openly as for decency they dare, that we must fetch our tears of godly sorrow from the infernal lake, and rekindle the candle of repentance at the fire of hell! And that the fanning breath of the Spirit, and the golden, hallowed snuffers of the sanctuary cannot make that candle burn continually clear, unless we use, to the end of our life, the black finger of Satan, indwelling sin; and Adam's accursed extinguisher, original corruption!
ARG. VI. Our author's next argument, in favour of the necessary indwelling of sin during life, is more decent, and consequently more dangerous. The cloven feet of error delicately wear the sandals of truth: but, with a little attention, we shall soon see that they are only borrowed or stolen. The argument, abridged from page 44, and rendered more perspicuous, may run thus:"If we have frequently been slothful, and have not at all times exerted our abilities to the uttermost, why may not God in wisdom rebuke us for it, and make us sensible of that evil, by not permitting us to effect what at other times we Seem determined, if possible, to accomplish? [that is, by not permitting us utterly to abolish the whole body of sin.] If Samson abuse his strength, it is fit he should have cause severely to repent of his folly, by being deprived of it for a season, and becoming as weak as other men." Here we are left to infer, that as Samson through his unfaithfulness became "as weak as other men" for a season; so all believers, on account of their unfaithfulness, must be weakened by indwelling sin, during the term of life.
To this we answer, (1.) That although believers frequently give place to sloth and unfaithfulness, yet they are no more necessitated to do it, than Samson was to daily with Delilah. (2.) If the constant indwelling of sin be a just punishment for not making a proper use of the talent of grace which God gives us, it evidently follows that our unfaithfulness, and not a necessity appointed by God, is the very worm which destroys our evangelically sinless perfection: and the moment our opponents grant this, they allow all that we contend for; unless they should be able to prove that God necessitates us to be unfaithful, in order to punish us infallibly with indwelling sin for life.
As for Samson, he is most unfortunately brought in to support the doctrine of the necessary indwelling of that weakening sin, which we call "inbred corruption:" and he might be most happily produced to encourage those unfaithful believers, who, like him, have not made a proper use of their strength in time past. For he outlived his penal weakness, and recovered the strength of a perfect Nazarite before death; witness his last achievement, which exceeded all his former exploits. For it would be highly absurd to suppose that he got in a death purgatory the amazing strength by which he pulled down the pillars that supported the large building where the Philistines feasted. Nor need I the strength of a logical Samson to break the argumentative reeds which support the temple of error, in which the imperfectionists make sport, to their hurt, with the doctrine of that Christian Samson, who said, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me."
ARG. VII. Page 47, &c. We are indirectly told, (for pious men cannot utter gross Antinomianism without the mask of circumlocution,) that indwelling sin must continue in us, that "grace [may] not only be exercised, but distinguished from all that has only the appearance of it. Buthow is the true grace of God to be here distinguished from that which is but the semblance of it? By its effectsa clear and spiritual discovery of the depravity, deceit, and desperate wickedness of our own hearts." And then we are given to understand that lest we should not be deeply convinced of that "desperate wickedness," the continuance of indwelling sin is absolutely necessary. This argument runs into the fifth, which I have already answered. It is another indirect plea for the continuance of outward adultery and murder, as well as for the continuance of indwelling sin; it being certain that outward adultery, &c, "will convince us of the desperate wickedness of our hearts," still more powerfully than heart adultery, &c. To what hard shifts are good men put, when they fight for the continuance of the bud, or root of any sin! Their every stroke for sin is a stab at the very vitals of godliness.
ARG. VIII. Page 48. "The continuance of indwelling sin," which is (with great modesty in the ingenious author, and therefore with great danger to the unwary reader) called "this warfare," is supported by the following reason:"It is often an occasion to discover the strength of grace received, as well as the truth of it." This argument is all of a piece with the preceding, and puts me in mind of a speech, which a shameless young debauchee made once to me:"I kept (said he) drinking and dosing in such a tavern, without ever going to bed, ever being sober one hour for twenty-three days. I never had so remarkable an occasion to discover the strength of my body, and the excellence of my constitution." However, in a few months, while he continued in the conclusion to discover his strength, a mortal disorder seized upon him, and by removing him into eternity, taught me that if Fulsome, the professor, speaks the truth, when he says, Once in grace always in grace, Nabal, the sot, was mistaken, when he hinted, Once in health always in health. To make the imperfectionists ashamed of this argument, I hope I need only observe, (1.) That nothing ever showed more the strength of grace than the conflicts which the man Christ Jesus went through, though he never conflicted a moment with indwelling sin. (2.) That the strength and excellence of a remedy is much better discovered by the removal of the disorder which it is designed to cure, than by the conflicts which the poor patient has with pain, till death comes to terminate his misery. And, (3.) That the argument I refute, indirectly represents Christ as a physician, who keeps his patients upon the rack to render himself more necessary to them, and to show the strength of the anodyne mixture, by which he gives them, now and then, a little ease under their continued, racking pain!
Our author adds, p. 49, "If those who bear the heaviest burdens are sometimes esteemed the strongest men, they who are thus engaged in this warfare [I wish he would speak quite out, and say, They who bear the heaviest burden of indwelling sin,] have that evidence of the strength of grace, &c, which is peculiar to themselves." A great mistake this: for if we may believe Ovid, when Medea murdered her own child, under a severe conflict with indwelling sin, she "had that fatal evidence of" what is here preposterously called the strength of grace; but what I beg leave to call the obstinacy of free will. Sed trahit invitam nova vis, &c. "Passion," said she, "hurries away my unwilling, reluctant mind." Judas, it seems, was not an utter stranger to this conflict, (any more than to the burden of guilt,) when he hurried out of it into a death purgatory. Nor do I blame him for having chosen strangling rather than life, if death can terminate the misery which accompanies indwelling sin, and do more in that respect for fallen believers than Christ himself ever did. But supposing that "the saving grace of God, which has appeared to all men," never appeared to Medea and Judas; supposing these two sinful souls never conflicted with indwelling sin; it will, however, follow from our author's insinuation, that, in case David had defiled half a dozen married women, and killed their husbands, to enjoy them without a rival, we should esteem him six times stronger in grace, if he had not fainted under his sixfold burden, like Judas; because "in this [Antinomian] warfare, those who bear the heaviest burdens are esteemed the strongest" believers; and because "they have that testimony of their love to Christ which is peculiar to themselves." If Satan were to transform himself into an angel of light, could he preach a more dangerous and immoral gospel to an Antinomian and perverse generation?
ARG. IX. Our author's last argument in favour of the necessary continuance of sin in us, occurs page 51, and runs thus:"I will only add, that by this warfare the Lord weans his people from the present evil world, and makes them long for the land of promise, as the land of rest, &c. I know some will say, This is impossible; and be ready to ask, Are we then debtors to the flesh? [A very proper question! which the author answers thus:] By no means, &c. In our flesh dwells no good thing, &c. Neverthelesshe [God] can and does make the presence of evil so irksome to the believer, that it makes him ardently long for complete deliverance from it." That is, in plain English, he keeps his patients so long upon the rack of their indwelling sin, that at last they are forced to long for death, the great cleanser from heart iniquity. This argument would have been complete if it had been supported by these two passages:"I do well to be angry even unto death:" "In those days men, [plagued by the locusts which ascend out of the bottomless pit,] shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." To show its absurdity I need only make two or three remarks upon it:
1. Mark the inconsistency of our opponents. When they hear us press obedient faith upon a fallen or wavering believer, by mentioning to him the terrors of the Lord, the fear of losing the Divine favour, and the danger of being even "spued out of Christ's mouth, and condemned without mercy" if he show no mercy; they say that enforcing the love of Christ on a disobedient believer, will abundantly answer all the good ends which we propose by thus preaching Christ's law: but, when they plead for the continuance of sin, they forget their own doctrine, and tell us that indwelling sin is necessary to keep us in the way of duty, namely, in ardent longing for heaven. They blame us for making use of Christ's law, to spur believers: and yet they, (see to what astonishing height their partiality is grown!) they do not blush to preach openly the law of sin to believers; insisting that its working in their members is necessary to "make them long for the land of promise, as for the land of rest, and for the speedy possession of that great good which God has laid up for them." (p. 52.) We are heretics for preaching the law of Christ, the law of liberty; they who preach the law of sin, the law of bondage, are orthodox, and engross to themselves the glorious title of Gospel ministers!
2. How absurd is it to prop up the throne of indwelling sin in the hearts of believers, that its tyrannical law may make them long for heaven! Did not Christ long for heaven without indwelling sin? Do not the holiest believers, who are most free from indwelling sin, long most for the beatific vision? And do we not see that fallen believers, who are most filled with indwelling sin, are most apt to be lovers of sin and the world, "more than lovers of God" and heaven? Are they not the very people, who, unmindful of Lot's wife, stay in the plain, instead of escaping for their life, and fleeing to the celestial mount of God without ever looking behind them?
3. Is not indwelling sin a clog, rather than a spur, to the heavenly racers? If sin be of such service to us, to make us run the career of holy longing after heavenly rest, why does the apostle exhort us to "set aside every weight and the sin which does so easily beset us?" If we want a spur to make us mend our pace, need we keep the spur, indwelling sin? Is it not more likely to spur us to hell than to heaven? If we have thousands of sinless spurs, what need have we of keeping that to drive us to heaven, which drove Adam behind the trees of the garden, not to say out of his native paradise?
If you ask, What are the sinless spurs of believers? We reply, all the toils, infirmities, and pains of our weary, decaying, mortal bodies: all the troubles, disappointments, and sorrows, which arise as naturally out of our present circumstances, as sparks do out of the fire: a share of the dreadful temptations which harassed Christ in the wilderness: and frequent tastes of the bitter cup which made him sweat blood in the garden, and cry out on Calvary. Hear one, to whom our opponents absurdly give the spur of indwelling sin, as if he had not spurring enough without it: "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh," Col. i, 24. And surely indwelling sin was never one of Christ's afflictions. Again: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall it be tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." Once more: some were "tortured, not accepting deliverance; and others had trials of cruel mockings, and scourgings; yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep skins, and goat skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth."
I grant that all true believers have not these thorns in the flesh, and feel not the spurs which made Elijah flee for his life before incensed Jezebel, and "request that he might die under the juniper tree;" but, at the best of times, they have, or should have David's affliction, "My eyes run down with water because men keep not thy law:" they have, or should have Jeremiah's grief, "O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep, day and night, for the desolation of Jerusalem, or for the slain of the daughter of God's people!" They have, or should have the sorrow of just Lot, who was vexed "from day to day with the filthy conversation of the wicked among whom he dwelt." To suppose, therefore, that in this vale of tears, tribulation, and sin, we need keep the sting of indwelling sin, because we must "strive against the sin" which is in the world to the end, even unto blood, if we are called to secure the crown of martyrdom; or, because it "is the will of God, that through much tribulation we should enter the kingdom;" (p. 46;) and because we should long for heaven: to suppose, I say, that we must keep the sting, indwelling sin, on these accounts, is as absurd as to suppose that all the keepers and nurses in bedlam must be mad, and must continue to be plagued with personal lunacy, lest they should not "strive against" madness to the end; lest they should not come out of great disturbances when they remove from their dreary habitation; and lest, while they continue there, they should not see mad people enough to make them long for the conversation of reasonable persons.
ARG. X. Page 52. Our author closes his shrewd plea for the death purgatory by proposing a very material objection: "If any exclaim and say, These sentiments have a tendency to reconcile believers to sin; I must say; The flesh might as soon be reconciled to the spirit, as the spirit to the flesh; or sin to grace, as grace to sin. It is often said, That nature will be nature. And why may not this be applied to the Divine nature, of which believers are said to be partakers?" Hence our author insinuates that the Divine nature of believers is "immutable;" and that, because "to will is present with them," when they sin they still retain God's holiness, as "lions and eagles, however confined or caressed, retain their ferocity and brutal appetites."
I am glad to see that this pious author has still the cause of holiness at heart, and desires to stop up the Antinomian gap. I am persuaded that he intends to do God service by pleading for the continuance of indwelling sin. If he ask for the reprieve of that robber and murderer, it is merely because Antinomianism has deceived him, as formerly Pharisaism deceived the Jews, who cried, "Release unto us Barabbas." If he saw that Christ in us must be crucified afresh, in case the robber in us is not put to death; I doubt not he would be as sorry for his publication, as the devout Jews were for their antichristian request, when they "were pricked to the heart" on the day of pentecost.
But, alas! if a good intention excuse bad performances, it does not stop their mischief. The very desire which our author evidences to secure godliness, is so unfortunately expressed, that it gives her as fatal a blow as the tempter did, when he said to our first parents, "Ye shall not surely die." For, when that gentleman intimates to fallen believers, Ye are possessed of the Divine nature; and, be your works what they will, if to will be "in some degree present," (p. 54,) ye are as much possessed of God's holy image, as a lion is possessed of a lion's fierce nature. What is this, but to preach the very gospel which the serpent preached in paradise; with this difference, that the serpent said, "Ye shall not die: ye shall be as gods." But the imperfectionists say, Your salvation is finished: ye have already the "immutable nature" of God: ye are already as gods? Adam believed the tempter, and lost his holy nature. The imperfectionists believe our author: O! may none of them remain "immutable" in the sinful imperfection which he so earnestly contends for!
XI. A Caveat. Having said so much upon our author's mistakes, I should be inexcusable if I did not drop a caution about the veil with which they are covered. His book goes into the world under the harmless title of "The Christian's peculiar Conflict;" whereas it should be called, A plea for the propriety and usefulness of the continuance of indwelling sin in all Christians. This plain, artless title would have made true Christians stand upon their guard; but now they take up without suspicion the cup mixed by the author: and it is well if some have not already drank it to the dregs without fear.
An illustration will give the reader an idea of the wisdom with which the title of this essay is contrived. I write a treatise full upon the advantage of a standing rebellion in the kingdom, and urge a variety of plausible arguments to show the great good that will arise from an inveterate opposition to the government. "If a spirit of rebellion ceases in any subject, the king's patience, mercy, love, and power will not be so fully displayed, nor will the loyalty of his good subjects be so well distinguished and proved: rebellion, and the burdens that attend it, will make us long for peace: guilty, ungrateful rebels will love the king and admire his mercy the more when they are forgiven after their manifold rebellions. And therefore [to use the unguarded words of our author, page 53,] it becomes us seriously to consider how far this great end [of a spirit of rebellion continually dwelling in every Briton's breast] is understood, approved, and answered." I show my manuscript to a friend, who says, Your essay will alarm every well wisher to the constitution of the realm. But I remove his objection by saying, I will not call it "An essay on the propriety and usefulness of a spirit of rebellion constantly harboured in the breast of every one of his majesty's subjects:" but I will call it, The loyal subject's peculiar conflict, an essay on 1 Samuel xii, 19; and this plausible title will modestly make way for my boldest arguments. Pleas for the continuance of rebellion and indwelling sin may properly enough be introduced by such a stratagem.