A man may make great vows and promises

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
Section VI. A man may make great vows and promises—he may have strong purposes and resolutions against sin—and yet be but almost a Christian. Thus did Saul; he promises and resolves against his sin, "Return, my son David," says he, "for I will no more do you harm." What promises and resolves did Pharaoh make against that sin of detaining God's people? Says he, "I will let the people go, that they may do sacrifice to the Lord." And again, "I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer." And yet Saul and Pharaoh both perished in their sins. The greatest purposes and promises against sin, will not make a man a Christian. For,

1. Purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin. We say, "threatened folks live long;" and truly so do threatened sins. It is not new purposes—but a new nature, which must help us against sin. Purposes may bring to the birth—but without a new nature, there is no strength to bring forth. The new nature is the best soil for holy purposes to grow in; otherwise, they wither and die, like plants in an improper soil.

2. Troubles and afflictions may provoke us to large purposes and promises against sin for the future. What is more common, than to vow—and not to pay? to make vows in the day of trouble—which we make no conscience to pay in the day of favor? Many covenant against sin, when trouble is upon them; and then sin against their covenant, when it is removed from them! It was a brave rule that Pliny, in one of his epistles, gave his friend to live by, "That we should continue to be such when we are well—as we promise to be when we are sick." Many are our sick-bed promises—but we are no sooner well, than we grow sick of our promises.

3. Purposes and resolves against sin for the future, may be only a temptation to put off repentance for the present. Satan may put a man on to good purposes for the future—to keep him from present attempts. He knows whatever we purpose, yet the strength of performance is not in ourselves. He knows, that purposes for the future are a putting God off for the present; they are a secret disobedience, to a present duty. That is a notable passage, "Follow me," says Christ, to the two men. Now see what answers they gave to Christ, "Allow me first to go and bury my father," says one. This man purposes to follow Christ, only he would stay to bury his father. Says the other, "Lord, I will follow you—but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at my house." I will follow you—but only I would first go and take my leave of my friends, or set my house in order. And yet we do not find that they ever followed Christ, notwithstanding their fair purposes.

4. Nature unsanctified, may be so far wrought on, as to make great promises and purposes against sin.

1st, A natural man may have great convictions of sin, from the workings of an enlightened conscience.

2d, He may approve of the law of God.

3d, He may have a desire to be saved.

Now these three together—the workings of conscience; the sight of the goodness of the law; a desire to be saved—may bring forth in a man great purposes against sin—and yet he may have no heart to perform his own purposes.

This was much like the case of those who who said to Moses, "Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey." This is a fair promise, and so God takes it, "I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good." So said, and so done, had been well. But it was better said than done! For though they had a tongue to promise, yet they had no heart to perform! And this God saw; therefore he said, "Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them!" They promised to fear God, and keep his commandments; but they lacked a new heart to perform what an unsanctified heart had promised. It fares with men in this case, as it did with that son in the gospel, who said that "He would go into the vineyard—but went not."

Now then, if purposes and promises against sin, never hurt sin; if present afflictions may draw out large promises; if they may be the resolves against sin for the future; or from nature unsanctified; surely then a man may promise and purpose much against sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.

MATTHEW MEADE 1661
 
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