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woful condition mentioned. Hence it is with believers sometimes as it is with men in some places at sea. They have a good and fair gale of wind, it may be, all night long; they ply their tackling, attend diligently their business, and it may be take great contentment to consider how they proceed in their voyage. In the morning, or after a season, coming to measure what way they have made, and what progress they have had, they find that they are much backward of what they were, instead of getting one step forward ; falling into a swift tide or current against them, it hath frustrated all their labours, and rendered the wind in their sails almost useless; somewhat thereby they have - borne up against the stream, but have made no progress. So is it with believers; they have a good gale of supplies of the Spirit from above, they attend duties diligently, pray constantly, hear attentively, and omit nothing that may carry them in their voyage towards eternity. But after awhile, coming seriously to consider by the examination of their hearts and ways, what progress they have made, they find that all their assistance and duties have not been able to bear them up against some strong tide or current of indwelling sin. It hath kept them indeed that they have not been driven and split on rocks and shelves; it hath preserved them from gross, scandalous sins; but yet they have lost in their spiritual frame, or gone backwards, and are entangled under many woful decays; which is a notable evidence of the life of sin, about which we are treating. Now because the end of our discovering this power of sin, is, that we may be careful to obviate and prevent it in its ration, and because of all the effects that it produceth there is none more dangerous or pernicious than that we have last insisted on, namely, that it prevails upon many professors unto an habitual declension from their former
and attainments, notwithstanding all the sweetness and excellency which their souls have found in them, I shall, as was said, in the next place consider by what ways and means, and through what assistance it usually prevails in this kind, that we may the better be instructed to watch against it.
Decays in degrees of grace caused by indwelling sin. The ways of its
prevalency to this purpose.
The ways and means whereby indwelling sin prevaileth on believers unto habitual declensions and decays as to degrees of grace and holiness, is that now which comes under consideration, and are many.
1. Upon the first conversion and calling of sinners unto God and Christ, they have usually many fresh springs breaking forth in their souls, and refreshing showers coming upon them, which bear them up to a high rate of faith, love, holiness, fruitfulness, and obedience. As upon a landflood when many lesser streams run into a river, it swells over its bounds, and rolls on with a more than ordinary ful
Now if these springs be not kept open, if they prevail not for the continuance of these showers, they must needs decay and go backwards. We shall name one or two of them.
(1.) They have a fresh vigorous sense of pardoning mercy. According as this is in the soul, so will its love and delight in God, so will its obedience, be. As, I say, is the sense of gospel-pardon, so will be the life of gospel-love. Luke vii. 47. 'I say unto thee,' saith our Saviour of the poor woman, her sins, which were many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.' Her great love was an evidence of great forgiveness, and her great sense of it. For our Saviour is not rendering a reason of her forgiveness, as though it were for her love, but of her love, that it was because of her forgiveness. Having in the foregoing parable, from ver. 38. and onwards, convinced the Pharisees with whom he had to do, that he to whom most was forgiven would love most, as ver. 43. he thence gives an account of the great love of the woman springing from the sense she had of the great forgiveness which she had so freely received. Thus sinners, at their first conversion, are very sensible of great forgivequickens them unto all obedience ; even that such poor cursed sinners as they were, should so freely be delivered and pardoned. The love of God and of Christ in their forgiveness, highly conquers and constrains them to make it their business to live unto God.
• Of whom I am chief, lies next their heart. This greatly subdues their hearts and spirits unto all in God, and
(2.) The fresh taste they have had of spiritual things, keeps up such a savour and relish of them in their souls, as that worldly contentments whereby men are drawn off from close walking with God, are rendered sapless and undesirable unto them. Having tasted of the wine of the gospel they desire no other, for they say, this is best. So was it with the apostles, upon that option offered them as to a departure from Christ, upon the apostacy of many false professors : Will ye go away also ?' John vi. 67. They answer by Peter, ' Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life ;' ver. 68. They had such a fresh savour and relish of the doctrine of the gospel, and the grace of Christ upon their souls, that they can entertain no thoughts of declining from it. As a man that hath been long kept in a dungeon, if brought forth on a sudden into the light of the sun, finds so much pleasure and contentment in it, in the beauties of the old creation, that he thinks he can never be
weary of it, nor shall ever be contented on any account to be under darkness again. So is it with souls when first translated into the marvellous light of Christ, to behold the beauties of the new creation. They see a new glory in him, that hath quite sullied the desirableness of all earthly diversions. And they see a new guilt and filth in sin, that gives them an utter abhorrency of its old delights and pleasures; and so of other things.
Now whilst these and the like springs are kept open in the souls of converted sinners, they constrain them to a vigorous active holiness. They can never do enough for God; so that oftentimes their zeal as saints suffers them not to escape without some blots on their prudence as men, as might be instanced in many of the martyrs of old.
This then is the first, at least one, way whereby indwelling sin prepares men for decays and declensions in grace and obedience. It endeavours to stop or taint these springs. And there are several ways whereby it brings this to pass.
[1.] It works by sloth and negligence. It prevails in
the soul to a neglect of stirring up continual thoughts of, or about, the things that so powerfully influence it unto strict and fruitful obedience. If care be not taken, if diligence and watchfulness be not used, and all means that are appointed of God, to keep a quick and living sense of them upon the soul, they will dry up and decay, and consequently, that obedience that should spring from them, will do so also. Isaac digged wells, but the Philistines stopped them, and his flocks had no benefit by them. Let the heart never so little disuse itself to gracious soul-affecting thoughts of the love of God, the cross of Christ, the greatness and excellency of gospel mercy, the beauties of holiness, they will quickly be as much estranged to a man as he can be to them. He that shuts his eyes for a season in the sun, when he
them again can see nothing at all. And so much as a man loseth of faith towards these things, so much will they lose of power towards him. They can do little or nothing upon him, because of his unbelief, which formerly were so exceedingly effectual towards him. So was it with the spouse in the Canticles, chap. v. 2. Christ calls unto her, ver. 1. with a marvellous loving and gracious invitation unto communion with himself. She who had formerly been ravished at the first hearing of that joyful sound, being now under the power of sloth and carnal ease, returns a sorry excusing answer to his call, which ended in her own signal loss and sorrow. Indwelling sin, I say, prevailing by spiritual sloth upon the souls of men unto an inadvertency of the motions of God's Spirit in their former apprehensions of divine love, and a negligence of stirring up continual thoughts of faith about it, a decay grows insensibly upon the whole soul. Thus God oft complains that his people had forgotten him, that is, grew unmindful of his love and grace, which was the beginning of their apostacy.
[2.] By unframing the soul, so that it shall have formal, weary, powerless thoughts of those things which should prevail with it unto diligence in thankful obedience. The apostle cautions us, that in dealing with God we should use reverence and godly fear, because of his purity, holiness, and majesty, Heb. xii. 28, 29. And this is that which the Lord himself spake in the destruction of Nadab and Abihu, • I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me;' Levit. x. 3. He will be dealt withal in an awful, holy, reverend manner. So are we to deal with all the things of God, wherein, or whereby, we have communion with him. The soul is to have a great reverence of God in them. When men begin to take them into slight or common thoughts, not using and improving them unto the utmost for the ends whereunto they are appointed, they lose all their beauty, and glory, and power towards them. When we have any thing to do wherein faith or love towards God is to be exercised, we must do it with all our hearts, with all our minds, strength, and souls, not slightly and perfunctorily, which God abhors; he doth not only require that we bear his love and
in remembrance, but that, as much as in us lieth, we do it according to the worth and excellency of them. It was the sin of Hezekiah, that he rendered not again according to the benefits done to him,' 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. So whilst we consider gospel truths, the uttermost endeavour of the soul ought to be, that we may be changed into the same image or likeness, 2 Cor. iii. 18. that is, that they may have their full power and effect upon us. Otherwise James tells us what our 'beholding the glory of the Lord in a glass,' there mentioned by the apostle, that is, reading or hearing the mind of God in Christ revealed in the gospel, comes unto, chap. i. 23, 24. 'It is but like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass : for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.' It makes no impression upon him, begets no idea nor image of his likeness in his imagination, because he doth it only slightly, and with a transient look. So is it with men that will indeed think of gospel truths, but in a slight manner, without endeavouring with all their hearts, minds, and strength, to have them ingrafted upon their souls, and all the effects of them produced in them. Now this is the way of sinners in their first engagements unto God. They never think of pardoning mercy, but they labour to affect their whole souls with it, and do stir up themselves unto suitable affections and returns of constant obedience. They think not of the excellency of Christ, and spiritual things, now newly discovered unto them in a saving light, but they press with all their might after a farther, a fuller enjoyment of them. This keeps them humble and holy, this makes them thankful and fruitful. But now, if the utmost diligence and carefulness be not used to improve