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Several ways whereby the bringing forth of conceived sin is obstructed.
Before we proceed to the remaining evidences of the power and efficacy of the law of sin, we shall take occasion from what hath been delivered, to divert unto one consideration that offers itself from that Scripture, which was made the bottom and foundation of our discourse of the general deceitfulness of sin ; namely, James i. 14. The apostle tells us that 'lust conceiving brings forth sin;' seeming to intimate, that look what sin is conceived, that also is brought forth. Now placing the conception of sin, as we have done, in the consent of the will unto it, and reckoning, as we ought, the bringing forth of sin to consist in its actual commission, we know that these do not necessarily follow one another. There is a world of sin conceived in the womb of the wills and hearts of men, that is never brought forth. Our present business then shall be to inquire whence that comes to pass. I answer, then,
1. That this is not so, is no thanks unto sin, nor the law of it. What it conceives, it would bring forth : and that it doth not, is for the most part but a small abatement of its guilt. A determinate will of actual sinning, is actual sin. There is nothing wanting on sin's part, that every conceived sin is not actually accomplished. The obstacle and prevention lies on another hand.
2. There are two things that are necessary in the creature that hath conceived sin, for the bringing of it forth. First, Power. Secondly, Continuance in the will of sinning, until it be perpetrated and committed. Where these two are, 'actual sin will unavoidably ensue. It is evident, therefore, that that which hinders conceived sin from being brought forth, must effect either the power or the will of the sinner. This must be from God. And he hath two ways of doing it.
(1.) By his providence, whereby he obstructs the power of sinning (2.) By his grace, whereby he diverts or changes the will
of sinning. I do not mention these ways of God's dispensations thus distinctly, as though the one of them were always without the other; for there is much of grace in providential administrations, and much of the wisdom of providence seen in the dispensations of grace. But I place them in this distinction, because they appear most eminent therein. Providence in outward acts respecting the power of the creature ; grace common or special in internal efficacy, respecting his will. And we shall begin with the first.
(1.) When sin is conceived, the Lord obstructs its production by his providence in taking away, or taking short, that power which is absolutely necessary for its bringing forth or accomplishment. As,
[1.] Life is the foundation of all power, the principle of operation. When that ceaseth, all power ceaseth with
Even God himself, to evince the everlasting stability of his own power, gives himself the title of the living God.' Now he frequently obviates the power of exerting sin actually, by cutting short and taking away the lives of them that have conceived it. Thus he dealt with the army of Sennacherib, when, according as he had purposed, so he threatened that “the Lord should not deliver Jerusalem out of his hand;' 2 Kings xviji. 35. God threatens to cut short his power, that he should not execute his intendment, chap. xix. 28. which he performs accordingly, by taking away the lives of his soldiers, ver. 35. without whom it was impossible that his conceived sin should be brought forth. This providential dispensation in the obstruction of conceived sin, Moses excellently sets forth in the case of Pharaoh, Exod. xv. 9, 10. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lusts shall be satisfied upon them: I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.' Sin's conception is fully expressed, and as full a prevention is annexed unto it. In like manner he dealt with the companies of fifties and their captains, who came to apprehend Elijah, 2 Kings i. 10, 11. Fire came down from heaven and consumed them, when they were ready to have taken him. And sundry other instances of the like nature might be
recorded. That which is of universal concernment, we have in that great providential alteration, which put a period to the lives of men. Men living hundreds of years, had a long season to bring forth the sins they had conceived; thereupon the earth was filled with violence, injustice, and rapine, and all flesh corrupted their ways ;' Gen. vi. 12. 19. To prevent the like inundation of sin, God shortens the course of the pilgrimage of men in the earth, and reduces their lives to a much shorter measure. Besides this general law, God daily thus cuts off persons, who had conceived much mischief and violence in their hearts, and prevents the execution of it. Bloodthirsty and deceitful men do not live out half their days.' They have yet much work to do, might they have but space given them to execute the bloody and sinful purposes of their minds. The psalmist tells us, Psal. cxlvi. 4. • In the day that the breath of man goeth forth, his thoughts perish :' he had many contrivances about sin, but now they are all cut off. So also, Eccles. viii. 12, 13. • Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him ; but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.' How long soever a wicked man lives, yet he dies judicially, and shall not abide to do the evil he had conceived.
But now seeing we have granted, that even believers themselves may conceive sin through the power and the deceitfulness of it, it may be inquired, whether God ever thus obviates its production and accomplishment in them, by cutting off and taking away their lives, so as that they shall not be able to perform it. I answer,
1st. That God doth not judicially cut off and take away the life of any of his, for this end and purpose, that he may thereby prevent the execution, or bringing forth of any particular sin that he had conceived, and which without that taking away he would have perpetrated. For,
(1st.) This is directly contrary to the very declared end of the patience of God towards them: 2 Pet. jii. 9. This is the very end of the longsuffering of God towards believers, that before they depart hence, they may come to the sense, acknowledgment, and repentance, of every known sin. This
is the constant and unchangeable rule of God's patience in the covenant of grace; which is so far from being in them an encouragement unto sin, that it is a motive to universal watchfulness against it; of the same nature with all gospel grace, and of mercy in the blood of Christ.
in the blood of Christ. Now this dispensation whereof we speak, would lie in a direct contradiction unto it.
(2dly.) This also flows from the former, that whereas conceived sin contains the whole nature of it, as our Saviour at large declares, Matt. v. And to be cut off under the guilt of it, to prevent its farther progress, argues a continuance in the purpose of it without repentance; it cannot be but they must perish for ever who are so judicially cut off. But God deals not so with his, he casts not off the people whom he did foreknow. And thence David prays for the patience of God before-mentioned, that it might not be so with him; Psal. xxxix, 13. “O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence and be no more.' But yet,
2dly. There are some cases wherein God may and doth take away the lives of his own, to prevent the guilt that otherwise they would be involved in; as,
(1st.) In the coming of some great temptation and trial upon the world. God knowing that such and such of his would not not be able to withstand it, and hold out against it, but would dishonour him and defile themselves, he may, and doubtless often doth, take them out of the world, to take them out of the way of it; Isa. lvii. 1. •The righteous is taken away from the evil to come;' not only the evil of punishment and judgment, but the evil of temptations and trials, which oftentimes proves much the worst of the two. Thus a captain in war will call off a soldier from his watch and guard, when he knows that he is not able, through some infirmity, to bear the stress and force of the enemy that is coming upon him.
2dly. In case of their engagement into any way not acceptable to him, through ignorance or not knowing of his his mind and will. This seems to have been the case of Josiah. And doubtless the Lord doth oftentimes thus proceed with his. When any of his own are engaged in ways that please him not, through the darkness and ignorance of their minds, that they may not proceed to farther evil or mischief, he calls
them off from their station and employment, and takes them to himself, where they shall err and mistake no more. But in ordinary cases, God hath other ways of diverting his own from sin than by killing of them, as we shall see afterward.
(2.) God providentially hinders the bringing forth of conceived sin, by taking away and cutting short the power of them that had conceived it, so that though their lives continue, they shall not have that power without which it is impossible for them to execute what they had intended, or to bring forth what they had conceived. Hereof also we have sundry instances. This was the case with the builders of Babel, Gen. xi. Whatever it were in particular that they aimed at, it was in the pursuit of a design of apostacy from God, One thing requisite to the accomplishing of what they aimed at, was the oneness of their language ; so God says, ver. 6, • They have all one language, and this they begin to do, and now nothing will be restrained from them that they have imagined to do.' In an ordinary way they will accomplish their wicked design. What course doth God now take to obviate their conceived sin ? Doth he bring a flood upon them to destroy them, as in the old world sometime before? Doth he send his angel to cut them off, like the army of Sennacherib afterward? Doth he by any
away their lives? No; their lives are continued, but he confounds their language, so that they cannot go on with their work, ver.7. takes away that wherein their power consisted. In like manner did he proceed with the Sodomites, Gen. xix. 11, they were engaged in, and set upon the pursuit of, their filthy lusts. God smites them with blindness, so that they could not find the door where they thought to have used violence for the compassing of their ends; their lives were continued, and their will of sinning, but their power is cut short and abridged. His dealing with Jeroboam, 1 Kings xiii. 4. was of the same nature. He stretched out his hand to lay hold of the prophet, and it withered and became useless. And this is an eminent way of the effectual acting of God's providence in the world, for the stopping of that inundation of sin, which would overflow all the earth were every womb of it opened. He cuts men short of their moral power, whereby they should effect it. Many a wretch that hath conceived mischief against the church of God, hath by this means been