[Addr-222] Many are the marks, which the learned have given us of the true church; but be that as it will, no man, whether learned or unlearned, can have any mark or proof of his own true church- membership, but his being dead unto all sin, and alive unto all righteousness. This cannot be more plainly told us, than in these words of our Lord, “He that committeth sin, is the servant of sin”; but surely that servant of sin, cannot at the same time be a living member of Christ’s body, or that new creature, who dwells in Christ, and Christ in him. To suppose a man born again from above, yet under a necessity of continuing to sin, is as absurd as to suppose, that the true Christian is only to have so much of the nature of Christ born in him, as is consistent with as real a power of satan still dwelling in him. “If the son,” says Christ, “shall make you free, then ye shall be free indeed.” What is this, but saying, if Christ be come to life in you, then a true freedom from all necessity of sinning is given to you. Now if this is hindered, and cannot come to pass in the faithful follower of Christ, it must be, because both the willing and working of Christ in man is too weak to overcome that, which the devil wills and works in him. All this absurdity, and even blasphemy, is necessarily implied in that common doctrine of books and pulpits, which teaches, that the Christian can never have done sinning as long as he lives. Well therefore may Christendom sleep as securely as it does, under the power of sin, without any thought, hope, or desire of doing God’s will on earth, as it is done in heaven; without any concern at their not being pure, as he who has called them is pure, or walking as he walked.
[Addr-223] The scripture knows no Christians but saints, who in all things act as becometh saints. But now if the scripture saint did not mean a man that escheweth all evil, and was holy in all his conversation, saint and no saint would have only such difference, as one carnal man will always have from another. Preachers and writers comfort the half Christians with telling them, that God requires not a perfect, sinless obedience, but accepts the sincerity of our weak endeavors instead of it. Here, if ever, the blind lead the blind. For St. Paul, comparing the way of salvation to a race, says, “In a race all run, but ONE obtaineth the prize: so run that ye may obtain.” Now if Paul had seeing eyes, must not they be blind who teach, that God accepts of all that run in the religious race, and requires not that any should obtain the prize. How easy was it to see, that the sincerity of our weak endeavors was quite a different thing from that, which alone is, and can be the required perfection of our lives. The first God accepts, that is, bears with. But why or how? Not because he seeks or requires no more, but he bears with them, because though at a great distance from, they are, or may be making towards that perfection, or new creature, which he absolutely requires, which is the fullness of the stature of Christ, and is that which Paul says, is the ONE that obtains the prize.
[Addr-224] The same which Paul says, is said by Christ in other words, “Strive,” says he, “to enter in at the strait gate.” Here our best endeavors are called for, and therefore accepted by God, and yet at the same time he adds, “that many shall strive to enter in, but shall not be able.” Why so, whence comes this? It is because Christ himself is the one door into life. Here the strivers mentioned by Christ, and those which St. Paul calls runners in a race, are the very same persons; and Christ calling himself the one door of entrance, is the same thing as when Paul says, that one only receives the prize, and that one, which alone obtains the prize, or that enters through the right door, is that new creature in whom Christ is truly born. For whether you consider things natural or supernatural, nothing but Christ in us, can be our hope of glory.
[Addr-225] The pleader for imperfection further supports himself by saying, No man in the world, Christ excepted, was ever without sin. And so say I too; and with the apostle I also add, “That if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar.” But then it is as true to say, that we make him a liar, if we deny the possibility of our ever being freed from a necessity of sinning. For the same Word of God says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and (N.B.) to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
[Addr-226] But surely he that is left under a necessity of sinning as long as he lives, can no more be said to be cleansed from all unrighteousness, than a man who must be a cripple to his dying day, can be said to be cured of all his lameness. What weaker conclusion can well be made, than to infer, that because Christ was the only man that was born and lived free from sin, therefore no man on earth can be raised to a freedom from sinning; no better than concluding, that because the old man is everyone’s birth from Adam, therefore there can be no such thing as a new man, created unto righteousness, through Christ Jesus, living and being all in all in him; no better sense or logic, than to say, that because our redeemer could not find us anything else but sinners, therefore he must of all necessity leave us to be sinners.
[Addr-227] Of Christ it only can be said, that he is in himself the true vine; but of every branch that is his, and grows in him, it must be as truly said, that the life and spirit of the true vine, is the life and spirit of its branches, and that as is the vine, so are its branches. And here let it be well noted, that if the branch has not the life and goodness of the vine in it, it can only be, because it is broken off from the vine, and therefore a withered branch, fit for the fire. But if the branches abide in the vine, then Christ says this glorious thing of them, “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” John xv.7. The very same glorious thing, which he had before said of himself, “Father, I thank thee, that thou hast heard me,” and (N.B.) “I knew that thou hearest me always,” John xi.41. Now say that this new creature, who is in such union, communion, and power with God, because Christ is in him, and he in Christ, as really as the vine is in the branches, and the branches in the vine, say that he must be a servant of sin, as long as he lives in this world, and then your absurdity will be as great, as if you had said, that Christ in us must partake of our corruption.
[Addr-228] The sober divine, who abhors the pride of enthusiasts, for the sake of humility, says of himself and all men, we are poor, blind, imperfect creatures; all our natural faculties are perverted, corrupted, and out of their right state; and therefore nothing that is perfect can come from us, or be done by us. Truth enough! And the very same truth, as when the apostle says, “The natural man knoweth not the things that be of God, he cannot know them, they are foolishness to him.” This is the man that we all are by nature. But what scripture ever spoke of, or required any perfect works from this man, any more than it requires the Ethiopian to change his skin? Or what an instructed divine must he be, who considers this old natural man as the Christian, and therefore rejects Christian perfection, because this old man cannot attain to it? What greater blindness, than to appeal to our fallen state, as a proof of a weakness and corruption which we must have, when we are redeemed from it? Is this any wiser, than saying, that sin and corruption must be there where Christ is, because it is there where he is not?
[Addr-229] Our Lord has said this absolute truth, that unless we be born again from above, there is no possible entrance into the kingdom of God. What this new birth is in us, and what we get by it, is as expressly told us by his beloved apostle, saying, “That which is born of God sinneth not.” This is as true and unalterable, as to say, that which is born of the devil can do nothing else but add sin to sin. To what end do we pray, that “this day we may fall into no sin,” if no such day can be had? But if sinning can be made to cease in us for one day, what can do this for us, but that which can do the same tomorrow? What benefit in praying, that “God’s will may be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” if the earth as long as it lasts must have as many sinners, as it has men upon it? How vainly does the church pray for the baptized person, “that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph against the devil, the world, and the flesh,” if this victorious triumph can never be obtained; if notwithstanding this baptism and prayer, he must continue committing sin, and so be a servant of sin, as long as he lives? What sense can there be in making a communion of saints to be an article of our creed, if at that same time we are to believe that Christians, as long as they live, must in some degree or other follow, and be led by the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life?