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proceed in the degree of evil intents ; or how far in the frequency of sinning, before it must be called a gross sin.
. 3. The third sort of sins, which may be called sins of infirmity, are these last mentioned gross sins themselves, so far as they are found in the regenerate : these are gross sins put in opposition to the former sort of infirmities; but our divines use to call them all sins of infirmity, in opposition to the sins of unbelievers, who are utterly unholy. And they call them sins of infirmity, 1. Because the person that committeth them is not dead in sins, as the unregenerate are, but only diseased, wounded and infirm. 2. Because that they are not committed with so full consent of will, as those of the unregenerate are ; but only after much striving, or at least contrary to habitual resolutions, though not against actual.
Here we are in very great difficulties, and full of controversies : some say, that these gross sins do extinguish true grace, and are inconsistent with it: and that David and Peter were out of the state of grace till they did again repent. Others say, that they were in the state of grace, and ,
, not at all so liable to condemnation, but that if they had died in the act, they had been saved, because " there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus;" and that therefore all the sins of believers are alike sins of infirmity, pardoned on the same terms: and therefore as a rash word may be pardoned without a particular repentance, so possibly may these gross sins. To others this seems dangerous and contrary to Scripture, and therefore they would fain find out a way between both; but how to do it clearly and satisfactorily is not easy (at least to me, who have been long upon it, but am yet much in the dark in it). I think it is plain that such persons are not totally unsanctified by their sin ; I believe that Christ's interest is habitually more in their wills than is the interest of the flesh or world, at that very time when they are sinning, and so Christ's interest is least as to their actual willing; and so sin prevaileth for that time against the act of their faith and love, but not wholly against the prevalent part of the habit. And therefore when the shaking wind of that stormy temptation is over, the soul will return to Christ by repentance, love and renewed obedience. But then to know what state he is relatively in this while, as to his justification, and reconciliation, and
right to glory, is the point of exceeding difficulty. Whether as we distinguish of habitual faith, and love, and obedience, which he hath not lost; and actual, which he hath lost; so we must make some answerable distinction of justification (habitual and actual it cannot be) into virtual justification which he hath not lost, and actual justification which he hath lost: or into plenary justification (which he hath not) and imperfect justification, wanting a further act to make it plenary (which may remain). But still it will be more difficult to shew punctually what this imperfect or virtual justification is : and most difficult to shew, whether with the loss of actual plenary justification, and the loss of a plenary right to heaven, a man's salvation may consist; that is, whether if he should die in that condition, he should be saved or condemned? Or if it be said, that he shall certainly repent, 1. Yet such a supposition may be put, while he yet repenteth not; for the inquiry into his state, how far there is any intercession of his justification, pardon, adoption or right to salvation? 2. And whether it can fully be proved that it is impossible (or that which never was or shall be) for a regenerate man to die in the very act of a gross sin (as self-murder or the like)? For my part I think God hath purposely left us here in the dark, that we may not be too bold in sinning, but may know that whether the gross sins of believers be such as destroy their justification and the right to glory, prevalently or not, yet certainly they leave them in the dark, as to any certainty of their justification or salvation.
And then more dark is it and impossible to discover, how far a man may go in these grosser sins, and yet have the prevalent habits of grace. As to the former question about the intercession of justification, I am somewhat inclinable to think, that the habit of faith hath more to do in our justification than I have formerly thought, and may as properly be said to be the condition as the act: and that as long as a man is (in a prevalent degree) habitually a believer, he is not only imperfectly and virtually justified, but so far actually justified, that he should be saved, though he were cut off before he actually repent: and that he being already habitually penitent, having a hatred of all sin as sin, should be saved if mere want of opportunity do prevent the act: and that only those sins do bring a man into a
state of condemnation, prove him in such, which consist not with the habitual preeminence of Christ's interest in our souls, above the interest of the flesh and world; and that David's and Peter's were such as did consist with the preeminence of Christ's interest in the habit. But withal, that such gross sins must needs be observable, and so the soul that is guilty doth ordinarily know its guilt, yea, and think of it: and that it is inconsistent with this habitual repentance, not to repent actually as soon as time is afforded, and the violence of passion so far allayed, as that the soul may
recollect itself, and reason have its free use: and that he that hath this leisure and opportunity for the free use of reason, and yet doth not repent, it is a sign that the interest of the flesh is habitually as well as actually stronger than Christ's interest in him. I say, in this doubtful case, I am most inclining to judge thus: but as I would have no man take this as my resolved judgment, much less a certain truth, and least of all, to venture on sin and impenitency ever the more for such a doubtful opinion, which doth not conclude him to be certainly unjustified ; so I am utterly ignorant both how long sensual passions may possibly rage, and keep the soul from sober consideration; or how far they may interpose in the very time of consideration, and frustrate it, and prevail against it, and so keep the sinner from actual repenting, or at least, from a full ingenuous acknowledgment and bewailing of the sin, which is necessary to full repentance; and how long repentance may be so far stifled, as to remain only in some inward grudgings of conscience, and trouble of mind, hindered from breaking out into free confession (which seemeth to have been David's case long). Nay, it is impossible to know just how long a man may live in the very practice of such gross sin, before Christ's habitual interest above the flesh be either overthrown, or proved not to be there; and how oft a man that hath true grace may commit such sins : these things are undiscernible, besides that none can punctually define a gross sin, so as to exclude every degree of infirmities, and include every degree of such gross sin.
Perhaps you will marvel why I run so far in this point: it is both to give you as much light as I can, what sins they be which be to be called infirmities, and so what sins they be that do forbid that gentle, comforting way of cure, when
the soul is troubled for them, which must be used with those that are troubled more than needs, or upon
mistakes ; and also to convince you of this weighty truth, That our comfort, yea, and assurance, hath a great dependance on our actual obedience : yea, so great, that the least obedient sort of sincere Christians cannot by ordinary means have any assurance : and the most obedient (if other necessaries concur) will have the most assurance: and for the middle sort, their assurance will rise or fall, ordinarily with their obedience, so that there is no way to comfort such offending Christians, but by reducing them to fuller obedience by faith and repentance, that so the evidences of their justification may be clear, and the great impediments of their assurance and comfort be removed.
This I will yet make clearer to you by its reasons, and then tell you how to apply it to yourself.
1. No man can be sure of his salvation or justification, but he that is sure of his true faith and love. And no man can be sure of his true faith and love, but he that is sure of the sincerity of his obedience. For true faith doth ever take God for our great Sovereign, and Christ for our Lord Redeemer, and containeth a covenant-delivery of a man's self to God and the Redeemer, to be ruled by him, as a subject, child, servant and spouse. This is not done sincerely and savingly, unless there be an actual and habitual resolution to obey God and the Redeemer, before all creatures, and against all temptations that would draw us from him. To obey Christ a little and the flesh more, is no true obedience: if the flesh can do more with us to draw us to sin, than faith and obedience do to keep us from sin, ordinarily, this is no true faith or obedience. If Christ have not the sovereignty in the soul, and his interest be not the most predominant and potent, we are no true believers. Now it is plain, that the interest of the world and flesh doth actually prevail, when a man is actually committing a known sin, and omitting a known duty; and then it is certain that habits are known but by the acts. And therefore it must needs be that the soul that most sinneth, must needs be most in doubt whether the interest of Christ or the flesh be predominant, and so whether his obedience be true or no; and so whether he did sincerely take Christ for his Sovereign: and that is, whether he be a true believer; for when
a man is inquiring into the state of his soul, Whether he do subject himself to Christ as his only Sovereign; and whether the aụthority and love of Christ will do more with him, than the temptations of the world, flesh and devil: he hath no way to be resolved but by feeling the pulse of his own will. And if he say, 'I am willing to obey Christ before the flesh,' and yet do actually live in an obedience to the flesh before Christ, he is deceived in his own will; for this is no saving willingness. A wicked man may have some will to obey Christ principally; but having more will to the contrary, viz. to please the flesh before Christ, therefore he is wicked still; so that you see in our self-examination, the business is for the most part finally resolved into our sincere actual obedience. For thus we proceed: we first find, He that believeth and loveth Christ sincerely, shall be saved. Then we proceed, He that believeth sincerely taketh Christ for his Sovereign. Then, He that truly taketh Christ for his Sovereign, doth truly resolve to obey him and his laws, before the world, flesh or devil, Then, He that truly resolveth-thus to obey Christ before all, doth sincerely perform his resolution, and doth so obey him. For that is no true resolution ordinarily, that never comes to performance. And here we are cast unavoidably to try whether wę do perform our resolutions by actual obedience, before we can sit down with settled peace; much more before we get assurance. Now those that are diligent and careful in obeying, and have greatest conquest over their corruptions, and do most seldom yield to temptations, but do most notably and frequently conquer them, these have the clearest discovery of the performance of their resolutions by obedience, and consequently the fullest assurance : but they that are oftenest overcome by temptations, and yield most to sin, and live most disobediently, must needs be furthest from assurance of the sincerity of their obedience, and consequently of their salvation.
2. God himself hath plainly made our actual obedience, not only a sign of a true faith, but a secondary part of the condition of our salvation, as promised in the new covenant. And therefore it is as impossible to be saved without it, as without faith, supposing that the person have opportunity to obey, in which case only it is made necessary, as a condition. This I will but cite several Scriptures to prove, and