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Of liberty, with respect to fins of infirmity. An enquiry into these three things, 1.Whether there be any fuch fins, viz. Sins in which the most perfect live and die, 2. If there are, what they be; or what diftinguishes them from damnable or mortal fins. 3. How far we are to extend the liberty of the perfect man in relation to these fins.


HIS is a fubject, wherein the very being of holiness or virtue, the fal vation of man, and the honour of God, are deeply interested: for if we allow of fuch fins for venial, as really are not fo, we deftroy the notion, or evacuate the neceffity of holiness; endanger the falvation of man, and bring a reflection upon God as a favourer of impiety. On the other hand, if we affert thofe fins damnable, which are not really fo, we miferably perplex and difturb the minds of men, and are highly injurious to the goodness of God; representing him as a fevere and intolerable master. But how important foever this fubject be, there is no other, I think, in the compafs of divinity, wherein fo many writers have been fo unfortunately engaged; fo that it is over-grown with difpute and controverfy, with confufion and obfcurity, and numberlefs abfurdities and contradicti


ons. This I have thought neceffary to obferve in the entrance of my discourse, not to infult the performances of others, or to raise in the reader any great expectation for my own; but indeed for a quite contrary reafon, namely, to difpofe him to a favourable reception of what I here offer towards the rendring the doctrine of fins of infirmity intelligible, and preventing the differvice which mistakes about it do to religion.

By fins of infirmity, both ancients and moderns, papifts and protestants, do, I think, understand fuch fins as are confiftent with a ftate of grace and favour; and from which the best men are never intirely freed in this life, though they be not imputed to them. This then being taken for granted, I fhall enquire into these three things.

1. Whether there be any fuch fins fins in which the moft perfect live and dye.

2. If there are, what these be. What it is that distinguishes them from damnable or mortal ones.

3. How far we are the extend the liberty of the perfect man in relation to these.

1. Whether there be any fuch. That the best men are not without errors, without defects and failings, and that not only in their past life, or unregenerate ftate,


but their beft, and most perfect one, is a truth which cannot, one would think, be controverted: for what understanding is there, which is not liable to error? What will, that does not feel fomething of impotence, fomething of irregularity? What affections, that are merely human, are ever conftant, ever railed? Where is the faith, that has no fcruple, no diffidence; the love, that has no defect, no remiffion; the hope, that has no fear in it? What is the ftate, which is not liable to ignorance, inadvertency, furprife, infirmity? Where is the obedience, that has no reluctancy, no remifness, no deviation? This is a truth, which, whether men will or no, they cannot chufe but feel; the confeffions of the holiest of men bear witnefs to it. And the pretenfion of the Quakers, to a finless and perfect ftate, is abundantly confuted by that answer one of the moft eminent of them makes to an objection, which charges them with arrogating and affuming to themselves infallibility and &tion, viz. That they were fo far infallible and perfect, as they were led by the Spirit of God. For what is this, but to defert and betray, not defend their caufe? 'Tis plain then, as to matter of fact, that the most perfect upon earth are not without frailties and infirmities; and fuch infirmities, as difcover themselves in actual flips and



errors. But the queftion is, whether these are to be accounted fins? I muft confefs, if we strictly follow the language of the fcripture, we fhould rather call them by fome other name; for this does fo generally understand by fin, a deliberate tranfgreffion of the law of God, that it will be very difficult to produce many texts wherein the word fin is used in any other fenfe. As to legal pollutions, I have not much confidered the matter. But as to moral ones, I am in fome degree confident, that the word fin does generally fignify fuch a tranfgreffion as by the gofple covenant is punifhable with death and rarely does it occur in any other sense; I fay rarely; for, if I be not much miftaken, the fcripture does fometimes call those infirmities, I am now talking of, fins. But what if it did not? 'Tis plain, that every deviation from the law of God, if it has any concurrence of the will in it, is in ftrict speaking fin: and 'tis as plain that the fcripture does frequently give us fuch defcriptions and characters, and fuch names of these fins of infirmity, as do oblige us both to ftrive and watch against them, and repent of them. For it calls them fpots, errors, defects, flips, and the like. But, what is, laftly, moft to my purpofe, it is plain, that this diftinction of fins, into mortal and venial, or

fins of infirmity, has its foundation in exprefs texts of fcrupture. Numerous are the texts cited to this purpose: but he that will deal fairly muft confefs, that they are most of them improperly and impertinently urged, as relating either to falls into temporal calamity; or to mortal, not venial fins; or to the fins of an unregenerate state; or to a comparative impurity, I mean the impurity of man with refpect to God; a form of expreffion frequent in Job. I will therefore content myfelf to cite three or four, which seem not liable to these exceptions, Deut. xxxii. 4: They have corrupted themselves; their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverfe and crooked generation. Here two things feem to be pointed out to us plainly: First, that the children of God are not without their spots. Secondly, That these are not of the fame nature with those of the wicked, in comparison with those wilful and perverfe tranfgreffions, the children of God are, elsewhere, pronounced blameless, without offence, without spot, Pfalm xix. 12, 13. Who can understand his errors? cleanfe thou me from fecret faults: keep back alfo thy fervant from prefumptuous fins, let them not have dominion over me; then fhall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great tranfgreffion. Here again the Pfalmift feems to me to place upright

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