Goodwin Banner

But let them turn no more to folly. - PSALM LXXXV. 8.

6. The sixth observation is, That peace being spoken to their hearts by God, they should 'return no more to folly.' See this, Ezra ix. 13, 14, 'Thou having punished us less than we deserve, and given us such a deliverance as this, should we again break thy commandments, wouldest thou not be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us.
Reason 1. - Because it will be a greater aggravation in sinning. It is made the aggravation of Solomon's sin, 1 Kings xi. 9, 'that God had appeared to him twice.' They were especial appearances and manifestations of mercy; and though such do now cease, yet we read of such as are analogical to them: as, John xiv. 21, Christ promiseth to manifest himself, which is by shedding abroad his love and his Father's love into the heart, which is evident by the former words, 'he shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him,' and after he saith, 'We will come to him, and make our abode with him,' ver. 23, and ver. 27, 'My peace I will give unto you.' Now such appearances will be set upon the score of every sin many years after, as they were upon Solomon's. And the reason is, because nothing wounds an ingenuous, loving nature more than matter of unkindness: 'If it had been my enemy,' says David, 'I could have borne it,' Ps. lv. 12, 14; 'but it was thou, 0 man, mine acquaintance; we took sweet counsel together:' a bosom friend, to whom I had committed my secrets, opened my heart. Thus, when God hath unbosomed himself, as it were, to a man, and told him what was in his heart towards him, this goes nigh him if he lifts up the heel against him. And the reason of that further also is -
(1.) Because of all things else, a man cannot endure to have his love abused; you come nigh him when you do so, for his love is himself, and commands all in him; so that abuse his love, and you strike at his heart. It is less to abuse any excellency in a man, to reproach and extenuate his parts, learning, &c., though these are dear to him; but his love is his bowels. And therefore, when God hath opened his heart to a man, and set his love upon him, and revealed it to him, and he carries himself unworthily, it pains him at the heart. Besides,
(2.) it is against the law of nature and of nations to seek out for a peace, and get it concluded, and then secretly to prepare for and enter into a war: nothing more hateful, or can exasperate two nations one against another more than this. It was the aggravation of Absalom's sin that, being newly reconciled with his father, and taken into favour again, after two years' discountenance, he then began to rebel more closely.
Reason 2. - The second reason is intimated in the word 'folly:' as if the Lord should have said, Set aside the unkindness and wrong you do to me, yet therein you befool yourselves; you will have the worst of it. And indeed, when God doth afterwards draw nigh to a man again, upon that his recovery of his peace, it appears to be folly, even in that man's own apprehension. When he hath tasted how sweet God is, then come and ask him, What, will ye return to sin again I he will then say, Ask me if I will wound or cut my flesh. It is impossible, thinks he, I should any more be so besotted; if there were no other motives, he thinks it the greatest folly in the world. And therefore God on purpose chooseth out that expression, and placeth it here in this case, because it is indeed the greatest folly in God's sight, and is so apprehended by ourselves, looking upon sin after peace is spoken to us. It is folly to sin against God at any time, but especially then, and that will appear by these particulars : -
(1.) Because, before a man had that peace he felt the bitterness of sin, for God never speaks peace till that be felt. Now, that is an argument even to sense never to return to it again, which a fool will be warned by: a burnt child dreads the fire; even a child will take heed, being taught by sense. When a man shall be in great distress, and his conscience shall suggest to him, as Jer. iv. 18, 'Thy ways and thy doings have procured these things to thee: this is thy wickedness,' - a speech like that when you say to your children, when they have gotten any harm, or cold, or sickness, This is your playing, and gadding, and going in the snow, and your eating of fruit, &c., - so doth God speak there to them when they were in distress, 'This is your wickedness, for it is bitter, it reacheth to the heart;' it woundeth the conscience, the wounding of which, of all else, is the greatest misery. When once a man after this hath peace restored to him, and he comes newly out of such a distress, ask him then how he likes turning to such a sin again, and he will tell you it is the greatest folly in the world: ask David if he will murder any I more after his bones have been broken and set again.
(2.) Thou wilt easily acknowledge it is folly to return to sin again if thou considerest the terms upon which thou didst obtain thy peace. Reckon what pains it cost thee to wash out the guilt and stain which sin had made, what vows and resolutions thou madest, what bonds thou didst seal unto, what promises never to return, what prayers and tears, what raps and knocks at heaven's gates ere thou couldest get an answer, or God to speak one word, he making as if he had not been within: why, is it not fully now to lose that in an instant thou hast been a-getting so long, haply many years, and with so much pains and cost? You use it as an excuse to prodigals to say things lightly come by are lightly gone; and yet you count them and call them fools for it, as not knowing what it is to earn a penny: how much more folly is it when a man having before mortgaged his peace, and God restored it again after much suit, and waiting many a term, then to come home and venture to cast all away at one throw at dice? Such a fool art thou when thou returnest to sin. To drink that at one draught which thou hast been setting many a year, what madness is it! When thou hast taken much pains to wash thyself, then to wallow in the mire again, and make thyself new work, what folly is it! Who but children and fools will do thus? That which the church said in another case may well be alluded to in this: Cant v. 3, 'I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
(3.) Consider what it is thou dost hazard to lose by returning to folly thy peace, (David lost it, as appears Ps. ii. 12 ; therefore, says he, 'Restore to me the joy of thy salvation;') in losing of which thou wilt be so much a loser, that if the sin thou choosest were able to give thee all the world, it could not recompense thee; no, not the loss of one hour's communion with God, which in a moment will bring thee in more sweetness than all thy sins can do to eternity. If all the pleasures of sin were contracted, and the quintessence of them strained into one cup, they would not afford so much as one drop of true peace with God doth, being let fall into the heart. it is 'peace which passeth understanding.' Few pleasures here do exceed the senses; nay, the senses are capable of more than the things can give; but this passeth understanding. 'God's loving-kindness is better than life.' If it were propounded to thee, thou must lose thy life next moment if thou shouldest commit'such a sin, wouldest thou venture, if thou didst believe it? Now 'the loving-kindness of God is better than life,' and wilt thou lose the enjoying of it, though but for a moment?
(4.) It is folly to return again, because the pleasures of sin will be much less to thee after thou hast had peace spoken. Take them at the best, when they are freshest, and when thy palate was most in relish and taste with them, when thou wert carnal, and ere thou knewest what sweetness was in God, and they then were but poor sorry pleasures. But now they will prove far more empty than before : they are empty vain pleasures even to him that hath them in their flower, and in his season of sinning; and therefore all wicked men are weary, and do inwardly complain of their condition, only they cannot find sweetness in God, and so are fain to keep themselves to their husks; but, alas! to thee they are far less worth than to another man, who knows not God, and therefore thou art like to have a worse bargain of it. Another man can make more money of a sin, and get more pleasure out of it, than thou art able to do. For, first, thy conscience having been scorched with sin, - as scalded flesh adheres more, and is more sensible in coming to the fire, than other parts of the body, - is become of a quicker sense; whereas wicked men's is seared, and so they commit 'all uncleanness with greediness;' but thine is tender and galled in the act, which allays much of the pleasure of thy sin, and mingleth the more bitterness with it. And, secondly, besides this galling of conscience, which is common to thee with many an unregenerate man, thou hast a principle of grace, an inner man, which is dead to such pleasures, that tastes them not, that is like Barzillai, who, through age, 2 Sam. xix. 35, could not taste either what he ate or drank, as young men do; no more can that new man in thee, and therefore it can be but half as pleasant to thee as to another man. If one side of a man be taken all with a numb palsy, what pleasure is it to that man to exercise his limbs in the actions of life? He is but half a man, and lives but half a life. So it is with thee when thou hast grace in thy heart: but half thy heart can take pleasure in sinning; that new man, the other half, reluctates, grieves for it, hates what thou doest; and all this must needs strike off much of the pleasure. But, thirdly, if we add to this, that this new man in him, having once tasted what sweetness is in God, and how good the Lord is, is then like a man that hath eaten sweetmeats, other things are out of taste with him, and therefore also it is folly to return. 'No man,' says Christ, Luke v. 39, 'having drunk old wine desireth new, for he saith the old is better;' a man used to high fare cannot agree so well with thin diet: so the soul having been used to taste of great pleasures in God, the impression and remembrance of them leaves his soul less satisfied than another man's. A stomach that hath been enlarged to full diet, looks for it, and riseth more hungry from a slender meal; now communion with God enlarges the faculties, and widens them, and makes them more capable of greater joys than other men have, and therefore the creature is thus able to fill them; still he remembers with much grief; whilst he is eating his husks, what fare he had in his father's house; and oh, 'then it was better with me than now.' Call me not Naomi, but call me Marah, as she said, 'for I went out full, and am come home empty;' so doth he say when he comes from the act of sinning, he went with his heart full of peace, and meeting with a bargain of sinning, thought to eke out his joy, and make it fuller, but he comes home empty.
Use 1. - The first use is to those who have had peace spoken to them: Let them at such times fear themselves and God most, for then comes in this, as you see here, as the most seasonable admonition that can be given, to return no more to folly.
(1.) Fear God then most; for of all times else then sins provoke him most. To come and call him father, and the guide of your youth, and yet to fall to sin, this is to do as evil as you can, you cannot do worse, Jer. iii. 4, 5. So Ezra ix. 13, 14, 'After such an escaping should we again break thy commandments, wonldest thou not be angry till thou hadst consumed us?' In times of affliction it is the property of a good child to love God most: in times of speaking peace, to fear God most and his goodness, and to fear to offend him for his goodness' sake. Did I only say that God is provoked most then, if you return to folly? Nay, I add further, he is grieved, which is more than to be provoked; and therefore you shall mark that expression and admonition not to 'grieve God's Spirit,' then comes in when the 'Spirit hath sealed us up to the day of redemption,' Eph. iv. 30. Then by sinning we are said more properly to grieve him than before, when he hath so far engaged himself to love a man, and expressed himself to him, and set his seal upon him for his. God is angry with wicked men's sins, but he is grieved for yours. To grieve him is more than to anger him. Mere anger is an affection can ease itself by revenge, and by coming even again with the party; and when we can or intend to do so, our minds are not so much aggrieved, but please themselves rather to think of the revenge which we mean to execute: so when wicked men sin whom God means to meet with, he is said to be angry rather than grieved; and says, 'I will ease myself of mine adversaries,' Isa. i. 24, 'and avenge myself of mine enemies.' But here, as when a man's wife that lies in his bosom, or his child, shall wrong him; so is it when one sins whom God hath set himself to love, and done much for, and made known his everlasting kindness unto, and sealed to the day of redemption. This goes to his heart, grieves him rather than angers him; and such are the truest and deepest griefs. What should he do with you in this case? If afflict you, and by that means go about to turn you from your iniquity, therein he shall but afflict himself as it were; for 'though they rebelled, yet when they were afflicted he was afflicted,' Isa. lxiii 9, 10. As when a father that is a magistrate, or as one that maintains a student in a college, if either punisheth a child or pupil in his purse, he punisheth himself; so must God afflict himself to afflict you. Put not the Lord into these straits if you have any love in you. And -
(2.) As thou art therefore to fear God most then, so thyself most, and to be more watchful over thy own heart; thou art then apt to return to folly, if thou takest not heed; as when a man hath been very hot, or sweat much, he is apt to take the greatest cold. Hezekiah, after God sealed peace to him and answered his prayers, and renewed the lease of his life, his heart got cold, he did return to folly. The reason is, because then the heart is apt to grow less watchful, and to think itself fortified enough against any tentation. As St Peter, having seen Christ transfigured in the mount, grew confident in his own strength. And know that the devil watcheth such an opportunity most, for he gets a great victory if he can foil thee then, after he hath been foiled himself, and when thou art most triumphing over him. How many battles have been lost through security of victory and recoiling of the enemy! And besides, our corrupt nature, so far as unrenewed, is apt to gather heart to itself; to slight sin, as thinking its pardon easily gotten.
Therefore when thou art tempted, labour often to renew those thoughts which thou hadst of thy sin at that time when thou wert suing for peace, before thy peace was gotten; when thou wouldest have given a world for God's favour; and also what thoughts thou hadst of it when God spake peace, how thou didst abhor it, yea, thyself. And look what sin was most bitter to thee and an enemy to thy peace, - as if uncleanness, idleness, neglect of prayer, ill company, &c., - and preserve in thy heart those bitter apprehensions of it, and say of it, Thou hast 'been a bloody sin to me,' (as Moses's wife said of her husband:) and though I have got peace and my life saved, yet it was a bloody sin to Christ, his blood was shed to purchase this my peace; and shall I return to it?
And when tempted to it again, have recourse to the kindness God shewed thee in pardoning, and say, 'How shall I do this, and sin against God?' say as he said, 'Is this thy kindness to thy friend? 2 Sam. xvi. 17 ; and what! shall I, Absalom-like, now I am new reconciled to my Father, fall a-plotting treason again? What! shall I make more work for prayer, more work for God, break my bones again, and lie roaring again? Think thus, I was burned in the hand before, I shall be racked surely now. 'Sin no more, lest a worse thing befall thee.'
Use 2. - The doctrine of assurance, if not abused, and of God speaking peace to men, is no dangerous doctrine to make men secure and presumptuous in sinning. When peace is preached in any man's heart, this use naturally flows from that doctrine, 'Return no more to folly.' The very scope of the whole epistle of St John is to help all believers to assurance, as appears by 1 John i. 4, v. 13, 'These things I write you, that ye might have communion with God, and that your joy might be full.' But this will open a way to all licentiousness. No, says St John, chap. ii. 1, 'These things I write unto you, that ye sin not.' Nothing guards the heart more against tentations than the peace of God: it is said to guard the heart, Phil. iv. 7. Yea, and if you do sin, the assurance of God's love is the speediest way to recover you; so it follows, 'If any one doth sin, we have an advocate with the Father,' &c. 'And he that hath this hope in him,' - that is, to live with Christ, - and 'knows what manner of love the Father bears us,' 'purifies himself as he is pure,' 1 John iii. 1 - 3. If there were no more but self-love in a man, it were then no wonder if he doth abuse it. For self-love, where the love of God is wanting, is unthankful and ungrateful, willing to take all the love and kindness which is afforded, and abuse it, and work upon it for its own advantage. And it is true also that because we have too much of this principle unmortifled in us, therefore a God trusteth so few with much assurance, because they would abuse it. But where true love to God is seated, and much of it implanted, there the love of God and the peace of God doth as kindly and naturally enkindle and inflame and set it a-work, even as arguments suitable to self-love do work upon and stir that principle. For grace is more for God than for ourselves, it being the image of God's holiness, whose holiness consists in this, to aim at himself in all; and therefore when God's free grace towards a man is revealed, it raiseth him up to higher strains of love to God and hatred of sin. And therefore it is observable, Ps. II. 12, that David, when he prays for the restoring of the joy of his salvation,' he prays not simply for it, or alone, but withal prays for a free spirit, 'Establish me with thy free spirit;' that is, a spirit of ingenuity, which is kindly, sweetly, and freely wrought upon, Therefore when we have a free spirit wrought in us, then that free love that is in God towards us will work most kindly upon it, and constrain us to love him that loved us first. 'The love of Christ constrains us,' 2 Cor. v. 14, 'because we thus judge, that if Christ died for all, then they which live should not live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them.' St Paul gives the reason why this love of Christ did thus constrain him, because he did thus judge; that is, this consideration of Christ's love, he having a principle of love in his heart to Christ, he found to be a powerful prevailing reason to persuade him to live to Christ. Having a new judgment, he saw force and strength in the argument. And so shall we if we thus judge; and it will have this natural consequence as naturally to follow upon it in our hearts, as any reason in any other kind hath, that is brought to enforce any other conclusion. And therefore as the mind is constrained, as it were, to assent to a truth proved by force of reason, that if you grant this, then this or that will follow; so because we judge this reasonable by an argument drawn out of love's topics, that if Christ died for all, who otherwise must themselves have died, that then they should live to him; this will constrain us to love him, and live to him.
This text and admonition here gives a just occasion to consider a little of that so often questioned case of conscience concerning relapses of God's children into the same sins and folly again, and whether, after peace spoken, God's people may return again to folly. Some have held that a man after a second repentance could not fail into the same sin again; others, if he did, it excluded him from mercy for time to come. For the comfort of some poor souls, whose case and tentation this may be, I will speak somewhat, though sparingly and with caution.
1. The Scripture nowhere excludeth those from the state of grace, or bars mercy from those that have relapsed into the same sin, especially so long as in regard of the manner of their sinning it be but folly, not wickedness or wilful sinning; that is, rather proceeding out of error of understanding, and heat and impetuousness of foolish affections, than obstinacy and malice in the will, and with 'despite of the Spirit of grace,' Heb. x. 29. Yea -
2. In Scripture we meet with such passages and promises as may un doubtedly uphold any soul that hath so fallen, after peace received, into the same sin, and preserve him from apprehending himself excluded therefore from mercy and the state of grace. As, Hosea xiv. 4, 'I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely.' Unless they had fallen after repenting and former healing, it could not have been called backsliding; and yet this he promises to heal, and withal shews the ground that.moves him to his loving them freely. For if in anything his free love is shewn to any of his children, and drawn out, it is in healing again such a backsliding soul after recovery and peace given; for the falling into the same sin which hath been repented of and healed, provokes God more than a thousand other acts of sins formerly committed, though of the same kind. And therein also to shew his free love, that he can pardon even the abuse of love itself, he leaves some thus to sin after his love shed abroad in their hearts. Some he shews his free love unto, in keeping them from sinning; others, in pardoning them, and giving them repentance. They are but several ways of drawing it forth ; so that, if in anything, herein his free love is shewn, for if it were not free it would never endure itself to be abused.
And likewise the sure mercies of David are then shewn, when God 'multiplies to pardon;' so, Isa. lv. 3, having mentioned the promise of the 'sure mercies of David,' he promises to 'multiply to pardon,' as it is in the original, ver. 7; which are thus joined, both because the sureness of his covenant is therein shewn, and because we might haply multiply to sin; and at least it supposeth the possibility of it again. God likewise runs upon such a supposition in that expression of his to his own people, Jer. iii. 1, 2, 'They say, If a man put away his wife, and she become another man's, shall not the land be greatly polluted? But thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the Lord.' He speaks to her as to one who had been his wife, who though she had not been put away by him, but had put away herself, and run away, not once, but often, and that with many lovers; and sometimes in the midst of her whoredoms, had come in and made challenge of his former love, and pleaded his former mercy to her, and yet fallen back again, ver. 4, 5, (where he adds, 'Wilt thou not from this time cry, My father, and thou art the guide of my youth?' that is, I know, says God, you will come now and cry, as heretofore you have done, and say, Oh, thou art my father and my husband, and confidently still claim an interest in me upon my former kindness, and yet do as evil as you can, for you cannot do worse than thus to abuse my love,) yet, for all this, at the 12th verse, 'Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; for I am married to you,' ver 14. That which he doth thus to a nation, he may do to a particular man who is his child. Again -
3. There are not altogether examples wanting for this : -
Examp. 1. - We find Samson, a godly man, (whom yet we would scarce have thought such, but that we find his name in the list of those worthies, Heb. xi.,) ensnared with a Philistine woman, against the counsel of his parents, Judg. xiv. 3, who clearly laid open his sin to him. And he was in the event reproved for his folly, for his wife deceived him, told his riddle to his enemies; which he in the end perceived. And further to reprove him, in the issue she was given away to another, ver. 16, 17, 20. From all which passages of reproof, a holy man, that had his eyes in his head, could not but see his error. And yet again, a long while after this, (twenty years after, Judg; xv. 20,) when certainly ere that he had repented of this his sin, for which his parents before, and after God, so clearly did rebuke him, he went to Gaza, Judg. xvi. 1, 'and saw a harlot, and went in to her,' and there escaped narrowly with his life at midnight; and, ver. 4, after that also it came to pass he fell in love with another, as bad as any of the former, Delilah, who was his ruin. But his returning thus to folly cost him dear, for in the end he was taken as a captive to the Philistines, his enemies, and that through her falsehood; deprived of his strength he had spent upon these women; had his eyes, those betraying lights, put out, that had ensnared him; and himself made a fool of, to make his enemies sport. So as no child of God can take any great encouragement thus to return to folly for the future by his example; though comfort they may have therefrom in case they have returned for the time past.
Examp. 2. - Another example may be that of Jehoshaphat, who committed a great sin in joining with Ahab, that wicked king that 'sold himself to work wickedness,' 2 Chron. xviii. 1 - 3; and he was foretold what would be the success of that confederacy and journey by Micaiah, before he went with him to battle, and after in the battle itself:, where he hardly escaped with his life, and by an extraordinary providence at his prayer was delivered, ver. 31, 32; and as if that were not sufficient, God sends another prophet to him, chap. xix. 2, who with open mouth reproves him, and discovers to him his sin, 'Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord:' which message to so good a man doubtless was not in vain, but humbled him for that his sin, and wrought repentance in him to avert that wrath. And yet after that great and miraculous deliverance of him and his people, chap. xx., we find him relapsing into the same sin, ver. 35, 'After this did Jehoshaphat join himself with Ahaziah, king of Israel, who did very wickedly. And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish;' which another prophet in like manner reproveth, and likewise God himself rebuked by the like ill success of that league to the former: 'the ships were broken,' ver. 37.
Examp. 3. - Peter, a man who seemed by other of his carriages bold enough, was yet three several times surprised with base fear: once when he tempted Christ not to hazard himself at Jerusalem, where Christ told him that he was to suffer, Matt. xvi. 21 - 23, 'Master,' says he, 'spare thyself;' upon which speech Christ calls him Satan, rebuketh him more sharply than at any other time, for which surely there was a more than ordinary cause. Peter thought that if his Master should suffer at Jerusalem, that himself and the rest should not be safe. That speech, therefore, proceeded from fear; and therefore Christ doth immediately thereupon call for self-denial and taking up the cross, ver. 24. And this was immediately after peace spoken, ver. 16 - 18. Christ had never more comfortably given testimony to Peter and his faith than there. Yet again, after this, Christ had him up into the mount, and transfigured himself:, to hearten him against that trial to come, which made him so confident; yet then he denied him at his arraignment: when again Christ, immediately upon that, looked back upon him with so sweet a look as broke his heart for this his folly; and so he returned again, and it cost him many a tear. And Christ, after the resurrection, owned him again more than any of the rest; bade them that first met him, 'Go tell Peter.' He mentions him by name, and in especial: Go tell him the first news of it. And then also he asked him, 'Peter, lovest thou me?' and he said, 'Lord, thou knowest I love thee:' as if he had said, Though I have played the wretch, yet I love thee. Upon this, though he grew more bold, Acts iv. 13, yet, Gal. II 11, 12, we find him falling into the grudgings of the same disease, which cast him into another fit: 'he dissembled, fearing them of the circumcision.' This was a spice of the former sin, though not so gross; and though the outward acts in these sins were diverse in their occasions, yet they were all acts and buds of the same root of bitterness; and may as well be called sins of the same kind as the committing differing acts of uncleanness are reckoned falling into the same sin.
4. In the fourth place, if the Scriptures had been utterly silent in examples, yet reason, consonant to other principles, and grounds of divinity, and of the Scriptures, might persuade the same.
Reason 1. - If he may, after the most serious and thorough repentance, fall again into as grievous a sin of another kind, and return; why not into the same again? I confess there is some disparity, which might make him more averse, and set him in some more remoteness from the same sin he hath particularly repented of than another; which shall be considered in its place. Yet the difference cannot be supposed such as should make the one possible, and not the other; all true repentance working the heart to an abominating every sin, as well as any: and therefore, if it were true, it was for that particular sin, as sin; and then it would work the like against all and every sin, according to the measure of the sinfulness. And though it may and doth work a more keen and special hatred against that particular sin a man hath been most stung with, yet still this is but so far as this aggravation (to fall into the same sin again) may cause such a relapse to be more sinful than another sin. And so far, and upon that ground, he is and may be more set and strengthened against it than against another sin. But then, if the supposition fall upon another gross sin, never before committed, the sole and single act of which other circumstances make as heinous even as this reiterated act of a sin formerly committed can be, then the one is equally as possible as the other. But, however, yet still the difference is but in degrees, - namely, in that the heart is elongated a degree or so further from that sin formeriy committed than any other, - which will not therefore so vary the case that it should be made impossible to fall into the one, and not into the other.
Reason 2. - If he may fall into some gross sin, which at first conversion he did above all other humble himself for, and yet that same initial repentance did not put him into such an impossibility of falling into that sin again; why then should a renewed act of repentance for the same, or for some other reiterated sin, be supposed to have such virtue in it as to make him shot-free for ever from the same fiery dart again?
Reason 3. - Again, thirdly, let it be considered from whence it should be that a renewed, or indeed any act of true repentance, though never so great and intense, should have such a transcendent, eternal, and invincible virtue in it, and privilege annexed to it; for how is it that repentance doth strengthen us against sin, but by restoring the decayed frame of grace to a better constitution and greater degree of strength than before, and by raising it above a man's lusts, and above that lust more than all other? As in David, when he prayed, 'Create in me a clean heart,' which, through his sin of uncleanness, was in an especial manner defiled with a proneness to that sin. But yet withal remember, that that new frame of heart and strength gotten by that renewed repentance, and that augmentation and increase of hatred against, and abominating that sin wrought by it, is all but a creature, - as grace and every new degree of grace is, - and therefore, for preserving us, hath in itself but the power and force of a created habit, which may be prevailed against by the sin that is in us; and can no more, nay, much less, put us into a state of confirmation against any particular sin, than the grace of the angels could of itself confirm them in a state against all sin. And as for the impression of that bitterness which, in our repentance for that sin fallen into, was made upon our hearts, that also can be supposed to have but the like force upon our spirits that the impression of joy tinspeakable and glorious hath upon the heart in those heavenly raptures which believers sometimes enjoy. Yea, and the latter of those will easily be supposed to be of the greater efficacy of the two, and both but creatures. Now those ravishing joys are not yet such immortal and everlastingly quickening cordials, that put such spirits into a man as to preserve him from swounds and faintings of spirit for ever; and though, whilst they abide and are present to the heart, they do then raise it above all things here below, yet when a man hath been a while off from that mount, and hath conversed a while with things here again below, then that lustre wears away, as the glory that shined in Moses's face did, and after a while the sense and present taste of those joys wears out; and when that is gone, the bare remembrance of them which is left hath not, in their absence, such an infallible, tbough a great efficacy to preserve his mind in an everlasting disrelishing former delights, but that he may and often doth fall in love again too much with them; although indeed whilst the present sense of them did abide upon the heart, it abstracted the mind from all things here below. And hence a man is apt to 'fall from his first love,' Rev. ii., and from that high esteem of spiritual things; as the Galatians, chap. iv. 15, 'Where is the blessedness you spake of?' says St Paul to them. Therefore answerably the remembrance of the bitterness of any sin felt in our deepest humiliations is much less able to preserve a man, nor is the impression and dint made so lasting, nor the scars and wounds of conscience continuing for ever so fresh, as everlastingly to preserve and deter us from falling into the same sin again. For both are but creatures, and at best but arguments drawn from sense and experience within ourselves, and have but a human created power which is not always efficacious; especially seeing God hath ordained us to 'live by faith more than by sense,' for faith is appointed by God to be our more constant keeper, 1 Peter i. 5, 'We are kept through faith unto salvation,' and by it more surely and more constantly than by impressions of joy or sorrow which are made to sense: and yet we are not kept by it of itself, but by the power of God. So then we are kept by the power of God as the principal supporter and guardian, through faith as the instrumental, and by it rather than by sense or any other grace of sorrow or repentance, because faith carries the heart out of itself, and commits itself wholly into the hands of God as a faithful Creator, (who is the strength of Israel, to keep a man from every evil work,) as not being able to secure itself against any sin through the power of any fortification or strength that any other grace or degree of grace hath built, no, not for one moment; and therefore is as dependent upon God after a fall, and a renewed repentance out of it, yea, and more than before he fell; and his own woeful experience hath reason to make him so.
The like instance to illustrate the truth of this we may draw from the assurance of faith itself. For even the assurance of faith itself, - which is an act properly belonging to that grace, called therefore the assurance of faith, Heb. x. 22, - which doth strengthen us as much against doubting, when it is joined with joy unspeakable and glorious, as repentance can do against any other sin ; and whilst it is upon us, in the strength of it a believer is apt to think himself armed and strengthened, and so established as that he shall liever question God's love any more, or the pardon of his sins; and yet, experience shews it, that the guilt of sin prevails sometimes again after this, and the same doubts arise and prevail as much as ever. Neither will the remembrance of the former assurance be always of force enough to resist them; for he may come to question that assurance itself also, and so forget that he was purged from his old sins. And if the guilt of sin prevail in the conscience again, against such a renewed aud settled act of faith, why may not the power of a lust prevail in the members after a renewed act of repent ance?
Reason 4. - If it be said that a renewed act of thorongh repentance doth keep a man, not by any peculiar virtue in itself alone, but by the power of God concurrent with it; then I demand to see the promise wherein God hath infallibly obliged and engaged his power, upon such a renewed act of repentance, to preserve from failing into that sin of all other for ever, without which no man in faith can affirm it, and without which there is an it may be, and a supposition of such a possibility as sometime falleth out and is reduced to existence. God indeed hath said, that if we fall he will put under his hand to break that fall, that it shall not ruin us; but not so to keep us in his hands as we shall be out of danger of falling again. A renewed act of repentance is indeed an ordinance sanctified to preserve a man; yet but in the same manner that other ordinances are, as prayer, and the word preached, and admonition, with which God doth not always so infallibly co-operate as efficaciously to work always that which they serve to.
5. If there were not such a possibility as might and doth sometimes fail out, then every regenerate man, after such a renewed act of repentance, might secure himself against the committing that gross act again for ever; but so he can never do against any particular act of sin but that sin against the Holy Ghost. St Paul therefore exhorts, when a brother is fallen into a sin, to 'restore such a one with the spirit of meekness,' upon this consideration, 'considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted;' and he lays the exhortation upon those who are most spiritual: 'Ye that are spiritual, restore such a one, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,' Gal. vi. 1; 50 as he speaks of such as have their hearts raised up to the best frame, through the most deep and serious repentance. And now we will suppose one that hath formerly fallen himself into the same sin which another is fallen into, but not yet restored, but himself is returned by repentance out of it; for, indeed, such a spiritual man is of all other like to be the meekest bone-setter of a man fallen; and even such doth St Paul exhort to consider that themselves may for the time to come be also or in like manner tempted, - that is fall as this man fell, - and therefore so be tempted as to fall into the same sin again that he was fallen into. And if any man could be secure from the like fall again, he had been out of the reach of this exhortation to this duty upon that ground mentioned, as not capable of it. But the Holy Ghost hath elsewhere, 1 Cor. x. 13, told us, that there is no tentation which is common to man but is incident to befall any man at any time; and therefore, ver. 12, exhorts 'him that standeth' to 'take heed lest he fall' Indeed, that temptation which is common to devils with men, the sin of final despair, and against the Holy Ghost, a regenerate man may, through the grace of Christ, secure himself against; but all such sins as are common to man, from these or any of them, no man, in any state, can, without an extraordinary revelation, secure himself from the commission of.
Only I add these cautions concerning this case
Caution 1. - There are two sorts of corruptions. First, more gross corruptions, which St Peter calls 'the defilements of the worid,' 2 Pet. ii. 20; they being the common mire or kennel wherein the unclean swine of this world wallow, and which the Apostle calls such 'works of the flesh as are manifest,' Gal. v. 19, even to the light of nature; such as are adultery, fornication, drunkenness, tIre.; and by those two expressions do they distinguish them from a sort of more spiritual and refined lusts.
For, secondly, there are corruptions more spiritual, as pride, secret love of the world. Now, for those gross corruptions which are contrary even to common honesty, and, to use Job's phrase, 'are punished by the judges,' chap. xxxi. 11, which profane men wallow in, a godly man hath more strength against them, so as it is not so ordinary for him to be entangled again and again with these. For where but moral principles are, these are abstained from, as we see in the Pharisee, - I am no adulterer, &e., - tberefore, where grace is, much more. And some sins are more opposite to the spirit of holiness, and less compatible with grace, as uncleanness, of which St Paul says, 'God hath not called us to uncleanness, but to holiness,' 1 Thess. iv. 7 it is in an especial manner there opposed to holiness; and such as these are 'works of the flesh, which are manifest,' even to nature, to civil men; and therefore, when they are often fallen into, they do manifest that the heart is but flesh. And although the limits, how seldom or how often, cannot be set concerning relapses into these or any sins, yet, in an ordinary course, it may be said that few godly men fall into such sins again and again. God keeps them from such in an ordinary providence, that scandals should not arise; they being sins which all the world takes notice of. But those other sins of rash anger, and love of the world, and spiritual pride, these being less manifest, and sitting more close to our spirits, godly men are more subject unto.
Caution 2. - Yet, secondly, we most again distinguish
(1.) There are the inward lustings to those outward acts now, though grace weakeneth the very lustings within, yet takes them not wholly away: 'The spirit that is in us,' - that is, in us saints, - says St James, 'lusteth to envy;' and as to envy, so to all other sins. And -
(2.) Secondly, there are the outward gross acts of such sins; and therein the weakness of sin in a regenerate man and strength of grace shews itself most in preserving from them. For, as 'to will is present with me,' says St Paul, 'to will what is good, yet how to perform it I am not able,' Rom. vii. 18 : so, on the contrary, to lust the heart may be ready, and lust may soon rise up in rebellion, but when it should come to the act there is a weakness discovered; they come to the birth, and want strength often to bring forth; the contrary lusting and prevailing of grace being then seen and discovering itself. That it fareth with a regenerate man in this case often as with a man that is deadly wounded, who riseth up to strike his enemy, and thinks to run him through, hot sinks down again, when his sword is at his enemy's breast, through a deficiency of spirits. Or as a man in a palsy, or the gout, who thinks he is able to walk till he comes to try, and then he finds a weakness which makes him fall back again. Thus, even when the whole forces of lusts are mustered up, yet the weapons fall out of their hands. Humours, in a healthful constitution, may stir in the stomach, when yet they come not up, nor prevail unto vomiting. In that place afore named, Gal. v., the Apostle seems not to deny but that in the most regenerate lustings may arise ; for 'the flesh,' says be, 'lusteth against the spirit,' ver. 17; but yet, as for outward acts, he tells them, ver. 16, 'that if ye walk in the spirit,' - that is, in the prevalency of the spirit, keeping up a holy frame of heart above the flesh, - that then 'ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh:' for that frame of heart so kept up will hinder the outward fulfilling of the lust, which is never done till flesh and corruption is actually raised above the spirit, and gets more voices to carry it; till the spirit be under-hatches and the flesh above, and so steers the helm. Otherwise the lusting of the spirit against the flesh will hinder the ontward doing and fulfilling of a lust. For the reason he gives, ver. 17, 'so as you cannot do what you would; implies, that not only lustings, which arise without consent, may be in such a man, but further, much of the will may be won to consent to them, to like them; when yet there is not strength enough to carry it on to the outward act, 'you cannot do what you would.' And what those works of the flesh are, which are manifest works of the flesh, and which Christians, whilst they walk in the spirit, fulfil not, he mentions and reckons up in the following words. And this is the more ordinary frame of a Christian's heart; for, ver. 24, says he, 'They that are Christ's have crucified the affections and lusts,' that is, so far as not to fulfil them.
Caution 3. - He may more easily fall into a gross sin of another kind than into the same after special repentance for it, and peace spoken in the pardon of it. Because true repentance especially fortifies the heart against that sin which a man hath most repented him of; and sincerity lies more in watching over that sin than any other; so, says David, Ps. xviii., 'I was upright, and kept myself from mine iniquity,' that especial sin which was eminently his sin. A man's arm that hath been broke will, if well set, rather break in some other place than where it was broke at first. Hence sometimes it falls out that that which was a godly man's bosom-sin before conversion continues not to be so after; but another steps up in the room of it, by reason that he then endeavoureth to wash out that great stain most, and spendeth the most of the fuller's soap to purge himself from it, and so becomes ever after most watchful over it, and sets in this, his weakest place, the strongest garrison, and a watch, to prevent the enemy. And as an act of some presumptuous sin, though it inclines the heart more to all sin than before, yet especially to commit that kind of sin again rather than any other; so, on the contrary, is it in a sound and solemn repentance for some especial sin, and in the endeavouring to mortify some especial member of the body of sin, (to mortify which, not only in the bulk and general, but also particularly and apart in the several members of it, the Holy Ghost exhorts, Col. iii. 5,) though thereby the whole habit of the body of sin is purged and weakened, yet that particular sin which we aim especially to have mortified, is, through God's blessing, more subdued than any other. We see idolatry was the sin which the people of Israel relapsed into again and again; yet when they were once thoroughly humbled by the captivity for it, they never returned to it, of all sins else, not to this day: so as it may be said, as was foretold haply in another case, Ezek. xvi. 43, 'Thou shalt not commit this lewdness, of all thy abominations.' Jonah, though he would haply never run away from God again after his jail delivery out of the whale's belly, yet, immediately after peace spoken to his heart, he falls into a sin of another kind, into a passion of extreme anger and peevishness, and quarrelling against God. And the reason of this especial tenderness to fall into the same sin is, because the conscience looks upon a relapse into that sin to be more heinous than into any other sin of another hind, because of that aggravation of it which thereby would stain and dye it; and although a sin of another kind shews the variety of corruption more, yet this is more against the power and work of repentance itself, which was particularly exercised about that sin; and also breaks and dissolveth all bands of a man's vows, covenants, prayers, etc., made against it in particular, and so is made more grievous. And this we may see in Ezra's humbling himself for that great sin of the people, in joining themselves in marriage with the people of the land, when he did set himself to humble himself for them, together with those 'that feared God,' chap. ix. 4. What a hideous apprehension of the heinousness of that sin, if they should again fall into it, did that day's repentance raise his heart up unto? as appears, ver. 14, 'Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with them, wouldest thou not destroy us till thou hadst consumed us, and till there was no escaping?' Into which sin yet the people did again fall, after they had repented of it with a solemn confession and promise of amendment, which is recorded chap. x. 11, 12, tIre.; yet they returned to it again the second time, as we find in Malachi, who lived the last of the prophets, and after this prayer of Ezra. For, chap. ii. 11, the prophet says, 'An abomination is committed in. Jerusalem, for Judah hath married the daughter of a strange god;' and then follows the aggravation, ver. 13, 'This ye have done again,'- that is, the second time, and in that respect are challenged to deal treacherously, and that also in respect they had repented of it the first time, - 'covering the altar with tears, with weeping, and with crying out,' as Malachi there speaks, so as 'God regardeth not your offerings any more.' And therefore, also, Ps. lxxviii. 40, 'How oft did they,' saith he, as aggravating their sins, by murmuring 'provoke the Lord?' and, Num. xiv. 22, God reckons up and mentions the times of their sinning, how often they had thus sinned, as an aggravation of them; 'they have tempted me these teim times.'
Caution 4. - He may fall into the same sin again and again, until he hath recovered himself and his peace fully by a thorough repentance, but yet seldom after. Lot committed incest two nights together; but the orifice of his lust was not yet stopped by repentance, the wound was not closed, and so bled again afresh; but when it is healed once, and the heart made perfect with God, and divorced from that sin, and entered into communion with God again, then though it may fall out, yet a man more hardly returns. A woman that is gone from her husband may play the whore a long while with him she ran away withal, till her husband fetches her again : but to run often away, after receiving again, is intolerable. That is not so ordinary in God's child.
Caution 5. - Though we can hardly set limits to say when, or when not, this shall fall out from the degrees of men's repentings, - as that if they have such or such a degree of repentance, then they fall no more, - yet we may further consider a difference of their returnings to God and repentings, and of God's speaking peace
(1.) Of their repentings. Some are more imperfect, and but, as it were, thawings of the mind a little, by means of a little sunshine of God's love: some are more thorough and deep, that recover a man, and put him into a sound and healthful estate. As, for example, a man in an ague hath well days, yet his fits return, and it may be they leave him for a month or so, and yet they take him again, as at spring and autumn; which is because all this while his body is not thoroughly recovered to a state of health: so is it with a man's heart, in respect of his lusts; though he may have many well days, wherein he may eat his meat, and receive sweetness in the word and ordinances, yet at times his distempers and aguish fits return, he being aguish still. But in the end, after the peace of God hath more thoroughly established his heart, he attains to some settled, constant victory over it; and when it doth not prevail to victory, such aguish fits end usually in consumptions, in which long agues often end. As in temporaries, in whom, sin overcoming God's striving with them, it eats all good beginnings out; but if they belong to God, then usually that aguish distemper is, in the end, by a more thorough repentance, so healed as that they attain to more victory and security against it than any other sin: that as in those other kind of tentations, it often falls out that that which a man doubted of most, comes in the end to be most assured of, and to doubt no more; so also here a man becomes most freed from that sin he was long exercised with of all others. So also -
(2.) For God's dealings with his, there is much difference therein to be found. There are some kinds of speaking peace by God, and meltings of the heart of his people, which yet are not of that force as to overcome, but wherein God doth but, as it were, strive with them; which strivings do ever and anon work their hearts to a repentance, and that true and serious; which yet is not so deep and thorough, nor so healing the heart at the bottom, as it should. For God sometimes useth more imperfect kind of strivings, even with his own children, about some particular sin they are to leave, which do not so fully at first prevail and overcome in them; which God doth, to let them see the running issue of their natures, how grace would run out at it, (as the Apostle speaks, Heb. ii. 1,) and overcome grace in them, if he should let it alone : and so lets out upon his child, after many years, some lust which had been long down, which puts him to it exceedingly, so that he is in hazard to be undone, and is put into fears of it; and yet God visiteth his spirit by fits, and, per intervalla, at times strives with him. And though he falls, yet he puts under his hand, and gives him well days, and some comfortable visitations; yet such as are not deep enongh to work him fully off from it. For as God strives with wicked men, so he sometimes strives with his own also; which may seem to be the true meaning of that speech, Gen. vi., where, having mentioned the sin of his own children, ver. 2, that 'the sons of God took to them wives of that wicked seed of Cain,' he says, 'My Spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is but flesh.' He means not this of all mankind, for he says, he also is but flesh. Now, with what other creatures doth he join them in this comparison but with others of the sons of men? So as the meaning is, I see my children, that they also are corrupt and degenerate, as well as the rest of mankind, and my Spirit hath striven with them. In which striving God lets them see how, if he did not in the end shew forth his free love to the full, in the rescuing of them and healing their backsliding, they would be undone. So as, in the end, through his grace, which is sufficient, they obtain the greatest conquest over that lust of any other; when the heart is once thoroughly awakened, and settled in a thorough peace. And as those doubts they were most troubled with once - which though they had at times some light against yet by fits did still arise - are yet in the end so overcome as they arise no more, but they enjoy the greatest freedom from them; so is it often herein. And these strivings to not overcoming I resemble to the thawings of the ice in a great frost, as when in the daytime the sun shines, and in the sunshine it thaweth a little, but yet so as at night, or in the shade, it freezeth; when sometimes also the weather begins to change for a night, and yet fulls a-freezing again: so here there is not such a thorough shedding abroad the love of God in the heart as should make a thorough general thaw, to the purpose, as we say; and so, when the heat of that is withdrawn, it freezeth again; but in the end there comes a more thorough and general thaw and change, that carries all away, melts the heart, and so alters the temper and constitution of the weather, as I may so speak, as it freezeth no more.
And such a thawing of his heart had David when Nathan came to him, and not before; though it may be he had those lesser relentings often before. But let those that are in such a case take heed they be not hardened through the deceitfulness of sin; and of all the times that pass over you in your lives, these are the most climacterial and critical, and most dangerous. For God will not always strive, but if thou beest his child, if such thawings will not do it, he will use some great afflictions, in the end to divorce the heart and thy sin; his love will one way or other overcome thee, and in the end prevail. As when Israel went on stubbornly in the way of his heart, says God, 'I have seen his ways, and will heal him and guide him,' Isa. lvii. 18; and the Lord may so heal thee as those lusts, of all other, shall not in that gross manner break forth any more. And in those times when God dealeth thus with him, a man will after say, that in such passages of his life he had more free love spent on him than in all his lifetime, before or after; and when he is freed and healed, he will be more thankful and fearfnl than ever before, or than otherwise he would have been, and so get ground by his stumblings.
If any of you, being now in such a conflict as this, in such a vicissitude and chance of war, if yet thou findest a constant fight against thy sin, and that those breakings and meltings of thy heart by God do win ground of it, and that the comforts and hope which at times are vouchsafed do strengthen 'and stablish thy heart in well-doing,' as 2 Thess. ii. 17, and make thee more fearful every time thou risest than ever, so as to look upon another fit, if it should come, (which, knowing the deceitfulness of the heart, thou fearest,) as the fit of some great sickness, lest it should return again; esteeming it as the greatest cross that can befall thee, which thou wouldest buy off with thy blood; and bleedest most of all to think that thou hast so unconstant a heart, which as it hath abused God's love formerly, so thou fearest will do so again ; - if thus thou go on to fight it out, the love of God will in the end overcome in thee. But if thou findest that those encouragements from God do, through thy corruption, (which turns God's grace into wantonness,) nourish thy lusts, and make thee less fearful against the next time, and thy heart harder and secure, and to slight sin more, because thou hast been so oft visited from on high, and pardoned; thy ease is dangerous, and may prove desperate.
Caution 6. - Though he may return, yet not presently: Luke v. 39, 'He that hath tasted old wine, doth not straightway drink and desire new ' - not whilst the love of God, and the taste and relish of it, is fresh in his mouth. When the impression is worn out indeed, and begins to be forgotten, then haply he may return.
Use. - To conclude with the use of this point: If it be folly to run into the same sin, though we repent of it afterwards, then what folly is it in them that utterly fall away, and after they have been enlightened, and tasted of the good word of God, then fall again to the pleasures of sin, and never repent of them? as many do that come and try a little what is in religion and the ways of God, and then return again to their vomits, and never return to piety again. 'Foolish souls, who hath bewitched you? Are ye so foolish that, having begun in the Spirit, ye end in the flesh?' as Gal. iii. 3. Folly indeed, to spend the harvest of your time in seeking God, and then to leave him when you are about to take leave of the pleasures of sin! Alas, poor souls! whither will ye go? Do you ever think to have such a God again? 'Thou hast the words of eternal life,' said the disciples to Christ; and as Saul said to his servants, to keep them from falling away unto David, 'Can the son of Jesse give you vineyards, and make you captains of thousands?' 1 Sam. xxii. 7 : so, Can the world give you that peace that I can give you? (may Christ say to you :) yea, and heaven besides hereafter? Is the devil, with all the wages of sin you post after, able to make you amends? You thereby dishonour God in returning to sin, and bring an evil report upon the good land, and discredit your master in changing your service; but withal you befool yourselves most, 'you return to folly.' For even that which you think to gain the world's good word and opinion by, even that you lose; for though they make a spoil of you, and triumph in such, and glory in their flesh a while, yet they never inwardly think well of such a one, nor truly love him. A backslider is like lukewarm water, having been once heated, which good men spue out, and evil men regard not; for what use can, indeed, be made of it? 'Like salt that hath lost its savour, it is good for nothing but the dunghill.' Like one that hath been married, but lives divorced, she is undone for her marriage ever after. Such is the condition of those that fall away. You who have but turned unto folly, and are not grown to a despising and despiting God's ways, 'Return, 0 Shulamite. return.' And you that have peace and communion with God, take heed you do not lose him; you will never have such a God again.

Home | Links | Literature | Webrings | Photos