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man, that when he has acted wickedly, and with a wicked mind, he is not at all the less to blame, because the intended mischief is prevented by another; or because the evil action is made the occasion of good. And the holy scriptures abundantly inform us, that God views the matter in this light. He used Nebuchadnezzar as his battle-axe, to cut down his enemies; and as his rod for the chastisement of his revolted chosen people. Howbeit, since he meant not so, neither did his heart think so; but it was in his heart only to enrich and aggrandize himself, by destroying nations not a few; God says, “When I shall have performed my whole work upon mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks."
How is it that the actual damage arising from the iniquities of men is prevented, and that they are made the means of good? It is generally and principally by the punishment of them. Thus God made the oppressions and obstinacy of Pharaoh and the Eyptians, the occasion of his name's being declared throughout all the earth, by overthrowing and drowning them in the Red Sea. And thus will he get glory to himself, and, in displaying his holiness, will exceedingly increase the happiness of the good part of the intellectual creation, from the sins of all finally impenitent workers of iniquity, by the terrible punishment of them in that lake of fire, whence the smoke of their torment shall ascend up for ever and ever.
Who can say that God would not actually be hurt, in his glory and happiness; or that eternal damage would not be done to the universe, by every sin, were it not that he can thus ease himself of his adversaries, and be avenged on his enemies? Were it not that he will shew his wrath, and make his power known, in their exemplary punishment; except they make their
him, in the wonderful way provided? Were
who walk in pride, he is able to abase,
and will abase? And shall we think that sin is no sin, and deserves no punishment, because God Almighty, by punishing it in such glorious justice, can vindicate his own injured honor, and secure the greatest general good! If any can seriously imagine this, I know not to what strong delusions they may not be left, or what strange lies they may not believe.
But there are some others who only say that they have now no sin, though once they were great sinners. Either they think themselves perfectly sanctified; or that perfect holiness is not required of them; or else that their sins are done away, in every sense, by the atonement of Christ, and the pardoning mercy of God. We will consider each of these claims to innocence, separately and distinctly.
1. Some say they have no sin, from an imagination of their being perfectly sanctified. God is able, indeed; did it seem good in his sight, to sanctify men wholly in this life: but that he never sees fit to do it, we have abundant reason to conclude from his word. There are left upon sacred record, not only great sins of some of the holiest men, but also the humble confessions of most eminent saints; such as Job, David, Isaiah, and Paul, that they were far from having attained to sinless perfection. It is also demanded, "Who can say,-I am pure from my sin?" And it is expressly said, "There is not a just man upon earth, that doth good, and sinneth not." From all which it may be concluded, with great certainty, that if any say their sanctification is perfect, it is but a vain boast, or a foolish self-deception. But,
2. Some may say that they have no sin, from an imagination that perfection is not now required of them. They may suppose that the old law, demanding a perfect life, and a perfect heart, is disannulled; and a new one substituted, making sincere obedience only, the whole duty of a christian. This notion
they ground, I suppose, on such texts as Rom. vi. 14, "Ye are not under the law, but under grace." But if that, text, and others like it, have reference to the moral law, they must be understood of it, only as a covenant of works. Believers are delivered from even the moral law in this view: that is, they are not under its condemning sentence to eternal death, however numerous and aggravated their sins may have been; and they have the promise of eternal life, though their obedience is still imperfect. This is implied in their being justified freely by the grace of God, through the redemption of Jesus Christ. And this is all the sense in which they are not still under the moral law. Certainly they are not delivered from the law of perfection, as the rule to which they are bound in duty to be conformed. To suppose any man delivered from this law in that sense, is to suppose it right, for him to do that which is in some measure wrong. It is to suppose that, without sinless perfection, one can be perfectly free from sin: than which nothing can be a more express contradiction. If on this ground, any imagine they have no sin, they are certainly deceived.
3. There is one ground more, on which some say this; namely, because it is supposed that their sins, past, present, and to come, are all blotted out and done away by the blood of Christ, and by the pardoning mercy of God. And indeed, the expressions of scripture are very strong in some places, respecting the deliverance of believers, by these means, from all sin. As to the imputed atonement of our Redeemer, it is said, Rom. viii. 1, "There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus." And ver. 33, 34,"Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect. It is God that justifieth: who is he that commendeth? it is Christ that died." As to the pardoning mercy of God, we read, Psal. xxxii. 1, 2, "Blessed is he whose iniquity is forgiven,
whose sin is covered: Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity." Psal. ciii. 12, "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us." Micah vii. 19, "Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depth of the sea." And Acts iii. 19, Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." From the literal language of such texts as these, were there nothing to teach us otherwise, we might be ready to suppose, that on repentance and faith in the blood of Christ, sinners were delivered from all desert, as well as from all danger, of wrath and punishment. But conscience, and reason, and the general current of scripture, all jointly testify that this cannot be the case. Nothing is more plainly contrary to reason, than that a man should cease to be faulty, when his sins are forgiven; or that the blameworthiness of one person, can be taken away by the suffering of another. Nothing is more contrary to the feelings of every true penitent, than either of these suppositions. Nor can any thing be more contrary to the express declarations of God's word; or to his evident dealings with good men. How is this consistent with the humiliation, mourning, and remorse for their sins, so often expressed by saints, both under the Old Testament and the New? How is this consistent with the many reprehensions given to good men, in all parts of the Bible? how is it consistent with God's threatenings to visit, and with his so often actually visiting, the transgression of his children with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes? Those who have no sin, deserve no corrections or rebukes; and have no occasion for godly sorrow, or self-reproach.
The forgiveness of sins, by whatever strong figurative terms it is sometimes expressed, can really intend no more than the remission of their eternal punishment. The atonement of Christ, though infinite, only delivers believers from the wrath to come. The justification of christians, however full, doth