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do that which I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” His meaning cannot be, that he did what he would not; in the time of acting. For this would imply, that he did not act voluntarily; that is, did not act at all. He must intend, therefore, by this mode of expression, that he voluntarily did what he had before determined not to do; or that he freely violated his own virtuous resolutions. This, indeed, is the natural consequence of having good affections and bad affections one after another, in alternate succession. If now we may judge of other saints by Paul, we may safely conclude that their moral imperfection wholly consists in their positively sinful exercises of heart. And this is agreeable to the whole current of scripture, which represents holiness as excluding sin, and sin as excluding holiness, in the human heart. When God predicted the conversion of the Jews in Babylon, he promised to take away their stony hearts by giving them hearts of flesh. And when saints are exhorted to grow in grace, they are commanded to put away bad affections, by exercising good ones. Thus we read, " If ye through the Spirit do mortily the deeds of the body, ye shall live." The apostle says to the christians at Corinth, “ Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.” This supposes that the increase of holiness would necessarily be the decrease of sin. The same idea the apostle more fully expresses in the fourth chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians. “ That ye put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." We find a similar exhortation to saints in the third chapter of Colossians. “But now ye also put off all these, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.” And in order to this, “ Put on, therefore, as the elect of God,— bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long suffering." “ And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness." The apostle Peter also speaks in nearly the same language to all true believers. 66 And besides this," says he, “ add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound," that is, continue, " they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful.” The plain import of all these exhortations is, that if saints were only free from all sinful exercises, they would be perfectly holy; and that the only way to be free from all sinful exercises is, to live in the constant exercise of holy
affections. Here then, the express declaration of the apostle Paul comes in with peculiar weight and authority.
“ This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." So long as ye exercise holy affections, sinful ones shall find no place in your hearts. Hence it clearly appears that all the imperfection of saints consists in positively evil affections, and not in the languor, or defect, of their truly holy and gracious exercises.
Though this may be a just and scriptural account of the imperfection of saints, yet since some very plausible objections may be made against it, they shall be treated with all the respect they deserve.
It may be said that saints are not conscious of such an alternate succession in their good and bad exercises, as has been represented; and, therefore, it is to be presumed that their good and bad exercises are united and blended together.
It has been observed in this discourse, that sin and holiness are diametrically opposite affections, and cannot be united in one and the same volition. And it has been farther observed, that the scripture represents them as totally distinct exercises of heart. These considerations afford a much stronger proof that all holy affections are distinct from all unholy ones, than the mere want of consciousness of this distinction affords to the contrary. We all know that our thoughts are extremely rapid in their succession. We cannot ascertain how many thoughts we have in one hour, nor even in one minute. And our affections, or volitions, may be as rapid in their succession as our thoughts; yea, it is very evident that they are too rapid for observation. For, though we never act without a motive, yet we often act without being able, the next moment after action, to tell the motive from which we acted. This shows that the succession in our volitions, as well as in our thoughts, is sometimes too rapid to be distinctly remarked. Let it be admitted, th n, that saints are not always conscious of the alternate succession of holy and unholy exercises in their own minds, yet this will not prove that there is no such succession. The plain reason is, the succession is too rapid to be observed. If any are disposed to doubt the force of this answer, let them try to distinguish the succession of their own thoughts and volitions, and it is presumed they will be convinced of its being utterly impracticable. Of course, they will be obliged to renounce the objection arising from experience, against the alternate succession of virtuous and sinful exercises in the minds of true believers.
It may be said that, according to the tenor of this discourse, saints may be sometimes entirely holy and sometimes entirely sinful. But this is extremely absurd ; because, if it be true, then saints are sometimes sinners, and just like the rest of the wicked world.
This objection is more ambiguous than pertinent. Saint signifies a holy, and sinner a sinful character. But a single volition, or a single external action, does not form a character, which is always founded on a course of conduct. One man is called industrious, and another is called idle. But the character of the industrious man is founded on a general habit, and not on a particular instance of industry; and the character of the idle man is founded on a general habit, and not on a particular instance of idleness. These cases will apply to saints and sinners. A saint is one who habitually obeys, though he sometimes disobeys, the divine commands. A sinner is one who habitually disobeys God, and never does any thing pleasing in his sight. Though a saint, therefore, may sometimes feel and act just like a sinner, yet he deserves not ihe character of a sinner, because he habitually feels and acts very differently from a total enemy to God. An industrious man may be idle, and feel and act just like an idle man, for a few moments or a few hours; but it would be extremely absurd to give him the character of an idle man, on account of such particular instances of idleness. He has the habit of industry, and will continue habitually industrious through the course of his life. So the saint, who is imperfect, and sometimes feels and acts like a sinner, will continue habitually holy and obedient to the end of his days. Now the scripture characterizes saints and sinners upon the ground of their habitual feelings and conduct; and, therefore, saints do not forfeit their character by their moral imperfection, though it consists in feeling and acting sometimes like sinners. It is probable the divine constitution does not admit of any long interval between one holy exercise and another, in the hearts of saints. Perhaps they seldom neglect any duty, or commit any transgression, without having some holy exercises, which condemn and oppose their sinful feelings and conduct. It is to be presumed that they never live months, nor weeks, nor days, destitute of right affections. And very often their holy and unholy exercises are as nearly coëxistent as they can be. But though there may be some moments or hours, in which they are totally sinful, as well as some in which they are entirely holy, yet such sinful seasons do not in the least militate against their christian character, but only exhibit painful evidence that they are really in a state of moral imper. fection.
It may be said, that if saints are sometimes totally destitute of gracious affections, then they actually fall from grace; which is contrary to the general tenor of scripture.
We have, indeed, sufficient evidence in the word of God,
that all true believers, who have been regenerated and justified, shall receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls. But this may be true, though the imperfection of saints consists in positively evil exercises, which for the time exclude holy affections. It is the constitution of God, that where he has given one holy exercise, he will give another, and another, until the subject of grace is ripened for heaven. But God has no where promised, that such gracious exercises in the heart of the true believer shall never be interrupted by sinful ones. It is, therefore, no more inconsistent with the certainty of the final salvation of saints, that their exercises of grace are sometimes interrupted, than that they are sometimes low and languid. God can as easily renew a train of holy exercises after it has been interrupted, as he can revive or strengthen a train of low and languishing affections. The truth is, the final salvation of all true believers depends upon God's working in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure; and therefore their salvation is absolutely certain, whether he constantly produces holy affections in their hearts, or whether he sometimes withdraws his gracious influences from them. It is sufficient for them to be assured, that “ He who has begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
But it may be still farther said, that all true believers have a principle of grace, which was implanted in regeneration, and which will not admit of their being totally destitute of holiness for a single moment.
In answer to this objection, it seems necessary to examine the principal passages of scripture, upon which it is founded. They are such as the following: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” “ That which is born of the Spirit
, is spirit.” “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
“A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things."
Here it is natural to remark, in the first place, that these texts cannot mean that a principle of holiness is implanted in the mind in regeneration. For holiness is love; and love requires no other principles than those of moral agency, which are common to all moral agents. A sinner has no need natural principle, in order to exercise holy affections; nor is any such principle required. All that the divine law requires of any man is the exercise of true love, or universal benevolence. This will be shown in a succeeding discourse. * If these texts, therefore, do not prove that saints have a gracious principle, then they do not prove that they are always in the actual possession and exercise of grace.
The next remark is, that the passages under consideration prove too much, and of consequence, prove nothing to the purpose for which they are brought. They prove, if taken literally, that when the heart of flesh is given, the heart of stone is totally and finally removed; that when a man is born of the Spirit, all his moral exercises become spiritual, or truly holy; that when a man is made a new creature, all his old sinful exercises are done away, and all his moral affections become new; that when the treasure of the heart is made good, nothing but pure holiness or moral goodness can proceed from it. In a word, they prove that when once the good seed is sown in the heart, it remains, and produces nothing but good fruit. But how is all this consistent with the truth which has been established in this discourse, and which is granted by all who plead for a principle of grace — that saints are in a state of imperfection and have the remains of moral corruption? We must, therefore, look for some different interpretation of these figurative expressions of scripture.
This leads us to observe, in the last place, that these texts, in their true meaning, support the very sentiment which they are supposed to refute. They plainly intimate that regeneration is the production of real holiness, which is totally distinct from sin, and can never be united or blended with it. For, if the giving of the heart of flesh be the taking away of the heart of stone, then the heart of stone and the heart of flesh are totally distinct; if that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, then flesh and spirit are totally distinct; if a man's becoming a new creature removes all his old exercises, then his new exercises are totally distinct from his old; or if he that is born of God sinneth not, - because his seed remaineth in him, then that seed, which our
Saviour calls spirit, is totally distinct from such sinful exercises, as, all must allow, more or less prevail in the best of saints. On this supposition, that grace is perfectly pure and entirely distinct from all sinful exercises, all the scripture representations of the renovation of the heart, may be explained in consistency with the moral agency, and with the moral imperfection of good men. It now appears, we trust, that there is no solid objection against the leading sentiment in this discourse, that all the criminal imperfection of saints consists in positively sinful affections.
* Love the essence of obedience. Rom. xiii. 10.–Wherefore love is the fulfilling of the law.