man may go far in opposing his SIN

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Blueridge Believer

Puritan Board Professor
Section IV. To come yet nearer; a man may go far in opposing his SIN—and yet be but almost a Christian. How far a man may go in this work, I shall show you in seven gradual instances.

First, A man may be CONVINCED of sin—and yet be but almost a Christian. For,

1. Conviction of sin may be merely rational, as well as spiritual; it may be from a natural conscience enlightened by the Word, without the effectual work of the Spirit, applying sin to the heart.

2. Conviction of sin may be worn out—and often does not end in sound conversion. Says the church, "We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have brought forth wind." This is the complaint of the church, in reference to the unprofitableness of their afflictions; and it may be the complaint in most, in reference to the unprofitableness of their convictions.

3. Many take conviction of sin, to be conversion from sin; and then sit down and rest in their convictions.

Now then, if convictions may be only from natural conscience; if they may be worn out, or may be mistaken, and rested in for conversion, then a man may have convictions, and be but almost a Christian.

Secondly, A man may MOURN for sin—and yet be but almost a Christian. So did Saul; so did Esau, for the loss of his birthright, which was his sin, and therefore he is called, by the Spirit of God, "profane Esau;" yet, "he sought it again carefully with tears."

Objection. But does not Christ pronounce them blessed, who mourn? "Blessed are those who mourn." Surely then, if a man mourns for sin, he is in a good condition. "You see," says Nazianzen, "that salvation is joined with sorrow."

Solution. I answer, it is true, that those who mourn for sin, in the sense Christ there speaks of, are blessed; but all mourning for sin, does not therefore render us blessed.

1. True mourning for sin must flow from spiritual convictions of the evil, and vileness, and damnable nature of sin. Now, all who mourn for sin, do not do it from a thorough work of spiritual conviction upon the soul; they have not a right sense of the evil and vileness of sin.

2. True mourning for sin, is more for the evil which is in sin, than the evil that comes as a result of sin. It is more because it dishonors God, and wounds Christ, and grieves the Spirit, and makes the soul unlike God, than because it damns the soul. Now there are many who mourn for sin, not so much for the evil that is in it—as for the evil that it brings with it. There is mourning for sin in hell; you read of "weeping and wailing" there. The damned are weeping and mourning for all eternity. In hell, there is all sorrow, and no comfort. As in heaven there is peace without trouble, joy without mourning; so in hell there is trouble without peace, mourning without joy, weeping and wailing incessantly; but it is for the evil which they feel as a result of sin, and not for the evil which is in sin. A man may mourn for sin—and yet be but almost a Christian: it may grieve him to think of perishing for sin, when it does not grieve him that he is defiled and polluted by sin.

Thirdly, A man may make large CONFESSION of sin, to God, to others—and yet be but almost a Christian. How innocently does Saul confess his sin to David? "I have sinned!" says he, "you are more righteous than I! Behold, I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly!" So Judas makes a full confession, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood!" Yet Saul and Judas were both rejected by God; so that a man may confess sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.

Objection. But is not a confession of sin a character of a child of God? Does not the apostle say, "If we confess our sins, God is just and faithful to forgive them." No man was ever kept out of heaven for his confessed badness, though many are kept out of heaven for their supposed goodness. True confession of sin is the way to the kingdom of heaven. There are some who confess sin, and are saved; there are others who confess sin, and perish.

1. Many confess sin merely out of custom, and not out of conscience. Many who will never pray--but they will make a long confession of sin—and yet never feel the weight or burden of sin upon their consciences.

2. Many will confess lesser sins—and yet conceal greater; like the patient who complained to his physician of his sore finger, when his liver was rotten.

3. Many will confess sin in the general, or confess themselves sinners; and yet see little, and say less of their particular sins. Where confession is right, it will be distinct, especially of those sins that were our chief sins. So David confesses his blood-guiltiness and adultery; so Paul his blasphemy, persecution, and injury against the saints. It is bad to hear men confess that they are great sinners—and yet cannot confess their particular sins. Though the least sin be too bad to be committed, yet there is no sin too bad to be confessed.

4. Many will confess sin—but it is only under extremity, that is, not free and voluntary. Pharaoh confesses his sin—but it was when judgment compelled him. "I have sinned against the Lord!" says he; but it was when he had eight plagues upon him.

5. Many do by their sins as mariners do by their goods, cast them out in a storm, wishing for them again in a calm. Confession should come like water out of a spring, which runs freely; not like water out of a still, which is forced by fire.

6. Many confess their sins—but with no intent to forsake sin. They confess the sins they have committed—but do not leave the sins they have confessed. Many men use their confession as Lewis the eleventh of France did his crucifix; he would swear an oath, and then kiss it; and swear again, and then kiss it again. So many sin, and then confess they do not well—but yet never strive to do better.

Torsel tells a story of a minister he knew, who would be often drunk, and when he came into the pulpit, would confess it very lamentingly; and yet no sooner was he out of the pulpit—but he would be drunk again; and this would he do as constantly as men follow their trades.

Now then, if a man may confess sin merely out of custom; if he may confess lesser sins—and yet conceal greater; if he may confess sin only in the general, or only under extremity, or if he may confess sin without any intent to forsake sin—then surely a man may confess sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.

Fourthly, A man may FORSAKE sin—and yet be but almost a Christian. He may leave his lusts, and his wicked ways, which he sometimes lived in, and in the judgment of the world become a new man—and yet not be a new creature. Simon Magus, when he hears Philip preaching concerning the kingdom of God, leaves his sorcery and witchcraft, and believes.

Objection. But you will say, this seems contrary to Scripture; for that says, "He who confesses and forsakes sin, shall have mercy;" but I confess sin, yes, not only so—but also I forsake sin; surely therefore this mercy is my portion, it belongs to me.

Answer. It is true, that where a soul forsakes sin from a right principle, after a right manner, to a right end; where he forsakes sin as sin, as being contrary to God, and the purity of his nature-this declares that soul to be right with God, and the promise shall be made good to it, "He shall find mercy." But there is a forsaking sin that is not right—but unsound.

1. Open sins may be deserted—and yet secret sins may be retained. Now this is not a right forsaking; such a soul shall never find mercy. A man may be cured of a wound in his flesh—and yet may die of an infection in his heart.

2. A man may forsake sin—but not as sin; for he who forsakes sin as sin, forsakes all sin. It is impossible for a man to forsake sin as sin, unless he forsakes all that he knows to be sin.

3. A man may let one sin go—to hold another the faster; as a man who goes to sea, would willingly save all his goods; but if the storm arises that he cannot—then he throws some overboard to lighten the vessel, and save the rest. So did they, Acts 27:38. So the unrepentant sinner chooses to keep all his sins; but if a storm arises in his conscience, why then he will heave one lust overboard, to save the life of another!

4. A man may let all sin go—and yet be an unsaved sinner still; for there is the root of all sin in the heart, though the fruit is not seen in the life; the tree lives, though the boughs be lopped off. As a man is a sinner, before ever he acts sin—so (until grace renews him) he is a sinner, though he leaves sin; for there is original sin in him enough to damn and destroy him!

5. Sin may be left—and yet be loved; a man may forsake the practice of sin—and yet retain the love of sin. Now, though leaving sin makes him almost a Christian, yet loving sin shows he is but almost a Christian. It is a less evil to do sin, and not love it—than to love sin and not do it; for to do sin may argue only weakness of grace—but to love sin argues strength of lust. "What I hate—that I do." Sin is bad in any part of man—but sin in the heart is worse than sin in the life; for sin in the life may be only from infirmity—but sin in the heart is the fruit of choice and unregeneracy.

6. All sin may be chained—and yet the heart not changed; and so the nature of the sinner is the same as ever. A lion chained up, is a lion still—as much as if he was let loose to devour. There may be a cessation of combat between enemies—and yet the quarrel may remain still; there may be a making truce, where there is no making peace. A sinner may lay the weapons of sin out of his hand—and yet the enmity against God still remain in his heart. There may be a truce—he may not sin against God; but there can be no peace until he is united to God. Restraining grace restricts the sinner—but it is renewing grace which changes his nature.

Many are restrained by common grace from being open sinners, who are not renewed by saving grace, and made true believers.

Now then, if a man may forsake open sins, and retain secret sins; if he may forsake sin—but not as sin; if he may let one sin go, to hold another the faster; if a man may let all sin go—and yet be a sinner still; if sin may be left—and yet be loved; if all sin may be chained, and yet the heart not changed—then a man may forsake sin—and yet be but almost a Christian.

MATTHEW MEADE 1661
 
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