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Sinners often feel a conflict between the motions of the heart and the dictates of conscience. For when their conscience is awake, it always condemns all their sinful desires and pursuits. There is, however, no real virtue in such a conflict between the selfish desires of the heart, and the remonstrances of conscience, though it rise ever so high, or continue ever so long. But the christian warfare always implies something truly holy and acceptable to God. Hence the apostle speaks of it as an evidence of his having some right desires and affections of heart; “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not."
Now, if saints have some perfectly holy and some totally sinful exercises, then it is easy to discover the ground of the christian warfare. For sin and holiness are diametrically opposite in their nature, and perfectly hate and oppose each other. While saints are in the exercise of holiness, they hate all sinful affections with a perfect hatred. So long, therefore, as two such opposite kinds of affection alternately exist in their minds, they must be subject to a most sensible and painful conflict. But did their imperfection consist in the mere languor of their holy affections, or in their holy affections being partly unholy, without any distinct and opposite sinful exercises, there could be no ground for a spiritual warfare. Though their holy affections were too weak and languid, yet this could afford no ground for their opposing each other. And though each holy affection were partly sinful, yet this could afford no ground for the same affection to oppose itself. But if the leading sentiment in this discourse be true, that saints have some perfectly holy and some totally sinful affections; then there appears to be a sufficient ground for a spiritual conflict in their hearts, as long as they remain imperfectly sanctified.
Hence the apostle Paul, who treats more largely upon the christian warfare than any other inspired writer, represents it as a mutual opposition between holy and unholy affections. He spends a great part of the chapter which contains the text, in describing the spiritual conflict which he had felt in his own breast. The description follows: "For we know that the law is spiritual,” it requires nothing but holy and spiritual affections, “but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.” So far as I am in the exercise of grace, I always see and approve the goodness of the law. “ Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” Whenever I do any thing which is sinful, I act contrary to those holy affections which form my christian character. For I know that in me,
that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing." I know that when the train of holy exercises is interrupted, then my affections are altogether sinful. “For to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not." While the train of holy exercises continues, I desire, I resolve, I deterinine, to do nothing but what is right. But I often find this train of holy exercises is broken, and then I feel averse to those duties, which I sincerely intended to perform. “For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” If I always do right, while grace is in exercise, then when I do wrong, it must be wholly ascribed to my totally sinful feelings, which, in my happy moments, I always abhor and resist. “I find then a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me." Though I resolve to do good at some future period, yet when that period arrives, evil is present with me, and I neglect that which I had previously intended to do. “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man."
It is my habitual* disposition to approve and love every divine precept. " But I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” My sinful affections I call the law of sin, and my holy affections I call the law of my mind. These two opposite kinds of affection are at variance with each other; and when my sinful affections prevail, I feel myself a captive, in bondage under sin. I know I am acting against the law of my mind, my inward man, my former desires and resolutions; but I find by painful experience, that none but God can break the voluntary cords of my iniquity, and deliver me from the love and dominion of those sins which easily beset me. O wretched man that I am, to be always exposed to the power and guilt of moral corruptions! Such a conflict between nature and grace the apostle experienced in his own breast; and such a conflict he represents as common to all christians; for he says to believers in general, “ The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."
If this be a just description of the mutual opposition between perfectly holy and totally sinful affections in the hearts of saints, then it may properly be called a warfare. For it obliges them to
Since habit always refers to some mental or bodily exercises, and not to prin. ciples of action, there is a propriety in calling a train of gracious exercises habitual, whether they originate from a principle of grace, or not.
be always on their guard, and to keep their hearts with all diligence, in order to repel the assaults and intrusion of sinful motions and affections. While they are in the exercise of grace, they habitually dread the approaching enemy, and watch his appearances, lest they should be taken by surprise. Such watching and guarding is essential to the christian warfare, in which victory consists in keeping the ground. As soon as sinful afsections take place in the hearts of christians, they are actually conquered. Indeed, that train of affections, whether good or bad, which exists in their hearts, is the conqueror for the time being. If good and bad affections could both exist in the mind at the same instant, and oppose each other ever so powerfully, it does not appear that either could ever gain the ascendancy. But if sin and holiness cannot exist at the same instant in the same mind, then either the one or the other must gain the victory, by taking possession of the ground. The only way, therefore, in which believers can keep out of spiritual bondage, is to keep themselves in the love of God. But since they are dependent upon a divine influence to do this, and since that influence may be withdrawn, they are always in danger of being surprised into sin. This renders the christian warfare extremely painful and extremely dangerous. Saints are soldiers for life, and nothing but death can discharge them from their spiritual warfare.
7. If the imperfection of true believers be owing to the inconstancy of their gracious exercises, then they are able to attain to a full assurance of their good estate, notwithstanding all their remaining corruptions. They are required to make their calling and election sure. It is their duty to know the true state of their minds. They ought to be thankful to God for his special grace, and perform all the peculiar duties which he has enjoined upon his children. But many seem to think it is out of their power to attain assurance, and plead the deceitfulness and corruption of their hearts as an excuse for not knowing whether they are really the friends or enemies of God. And did moral imperfection consist in the mere weakness of holy affections, or in their being mixed with moral impurity, it seems as though weak christians, at least, could not determine their own true character. For, there is no rule in the word of God, by which they can ascertain the point, whether their holy exercises are sufficiently strong and vigorous to denominate them real saints. But if moral imperfection consists in the inconstancy of perfectly holy affections, then they may certainly determine ihat they are the subjects of special grace. For every holy affection they have is totally distinct from every sinful affection, and affords an infallible evidence of a renovation of heart. Whoever has
true love, or true repentance, or true faith, or true submission, is born again, and has the witness within himself that he is a true child of God. Though these affections may be interrupted by contrary exercises, yet they still remain an infallible evidence of a saving change. And, as this evidence exists in every real saint, so every real saint may discover it. For, since perfectly holy exercises are entirely distinct from perfectly sinsul exercises, and since these two kinds of affection are diametrically opposite in their nature, the conscience is able to distinguish the least holy affection from any sinful exercise. Hence the weakest christian may discover that infallible evidence of grace which actually exists in his own heart, and which may give him assurance of his gracious state. Though he may feel and lament great moral corruption, and though his sinful exercises may very often interrupt his holy affections, yet still he may discover that train of holy exercises which is an infallible evidence of a renovation of heart.
This is the way in which good men in all ages have attained to assurance. Paul spake the language of assurance, when he sincerely declared, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man." This was as much as to say, though I often fall short of my duty; though I am often in bondage, sold under sin; and though I am prone to break my best resolutions; yet I know that I sometimes love the law of God, and that I sometimes heartily delight to do his will. And these exercises afford me full assurance that I am a true penitent and sound believer. Peter offended grievously, and discovered great corruption of heart; but yet when the train of holy exercises was renewed, he could appeal to Christ, and say, “ Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee." Job was fully assured of his good estate, while his friends accused him of hypocrisy. He knew that he loved God for what he was in himself, because he could heartily bless him for his frowns as well as for his smiles. Nor did his cursing the day of his birth destroy his assurance; for this could not invalidate the evidence in his favor, arising from the perfectly holy affections which he had often been conscious of feeling and expressing.
If we now look into the New Testament, we shall there find that the primitive christians attained to full assurance, by a consciousness of having pure and holy affections. The apostle John dwells largely upon this subject in his first epistle. In the second chapter he says, “ Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” Again he says, “ We know that we have passed from death unto life; because we love the brethren." He goes on and says, “ My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in
truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” “ Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God."
“ And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us." He pursues the subject farther and asserts, “ If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected
Hereby we know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." To give an emphasis to these declarations, the apostle expressly says that he wrote this epistle on purpose to teach christians how to attain assurance of their title to heaven. “ These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life.”
Thus it appears that it is the reality of holy affections, and not the constancy of them, which affords true believers an infallible evidence of their being born of God. Whenever they discover truly benevolent exercises, they discover certain evidence of a change of heart. For holiness in every degree of it is the fruit of the Spirit. And this evidence cannot be invalidated by moral imperfection, because it is accordant with the character of saints in this life that they should have the remains of moral corruption, or that their holy exercises should be sometimes interrupted by positively sinful affections. Though a single, solitary, holy exercise might be more easily overlooked, yet a succession of holy exercises may be readily and clearly discerned. Hence a succession of holy exercises, which always takes place in every regenerate person, may afford every real saint full assurance of his good estate. Let all professors of religion, and especially those that are in doubt of their sincerity, follow the apostle's direction. “ Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves how that Jesus Christ is in you,” that is, his spirit, “except ye be reprobates ? "
8. Since the imperfection of saints consists in the inconstancy of their holy affections, they need to be much in prayer for divine influence and assistance. They find that their hearts are extremely deceitful, and prone to go astray. They find that all the objects around them are apt to divert their attention and their affections from heavenly and divine things. They find that after they have had the nearest approaches to God, and the most intimate communion with him, their hearts are bent upon backsliding, and ready to pursue every object of vanity. They are weak, dependent, inconstant, inconsistent creatures. They perpetually need divine influence, to keep their hearts, to maintain uniformity of affections, and to give them that peace