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ON SIN IN BELIEVERS.
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." 2 Cor. v. 17
1. J. Is there tlicn sin in him thai is in Christ? Does sin remain in one that believes in him? Is there any sin in them that are born of God, or are they wholly delivered from it? Let no one imagine this to be a question of mere curiosity ; or, that it is of little importance whether it be determined one way or the other. Rather it is a point of the utmost moment to every serious Christian; the resolving of which very nearly concerns both his present and eternal happiness.
2. And yet I do not know that ever it was controverted in the Primitive Church. Indeed there was no room for disputing concerning it, as all Christians were agreed. And so far as I have ever observed, the whole body of ancient Christians, who have left us any thing in writing, declare with one voice, that even believers in Christ, till they are " strong in the Lord and in the power of his might," have need to "wrestle with flesh and blood," with an evil nature, as well as " with principalities anil powers."
3. And herein our own Church (as indeed in most points) exactly copies after the Primitive; declaring in her Ninth Article, "Original sin is the corruption of the nature of every man, whereby man is in his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth contrary to the Spirit. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek (p^wix.* nx^ioi, is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe, yet this lust hath of itself the nature of sin."
4. The same testimony is given by nil other Churches; not only by the Greek and Romish Church, but by every Reformed Church in Europe, of whatever denomination. Indeed some of these seem to carry the thing too far; so describing the corruption of heart in a believer, as scarce to allow that he has dominion over it, but rather is in bondage thereto; and, by this means, they leave hardly any distinction between a believer and an unbeliever.
5. To avoid this extreme, many well-meaning men, particularly those under the direction of the late Count Zinzendorf, ran into another; affirming, that "all true believers are not only saved from the dominion of sin, but from the being of inward as well as outward sin, so that it no longer remains in them:" And from them, about twenty years ago, many of our countrymen imbibed the same opinion, that even the corruption is no more, in those who believe in Christ.
G. It is true that, when the Germans were pressed upon this head, they soon allowed, (many of them at least,) that "sin did still remain in the flesh, but not in the heart of a believer;" and after a time, when the absurdity of this was shown, they fairly gave up the point; allowing that sin did still remain, though not reign, in him that is born of God.
7. But the English, who had received it from them, (some directly, some at second or third hand,) were not so easily prevailed upon to part with a favourite opinion: and even when toe generality of them were convinced it was utterly indefensible, a few could not be persuaded to give it up, but maintain it to this day.
II. 1. For the sake of these who really fear God, and desire to know "the truth as it is in Jesus," it may not be amiss to consider the point with calmness and impartiality. In doing this, 1 use indifferently the words regenerate, justified, or believers; since, though they have not precisely the same meaning, (the first implying an inward, actual change, the second a relative one, and the third, the means whereby both the one and the other are wrought,) yet they come to one and the same thing; as every one that believes, is both justified and born of God.
2. By sin, I here understand inward sin; any sinful temper, passion, or affection; such as pride, self-will, love of the world, in any kind or degree; such as lust, anger, peevishness; any disposition contrary to the mind which was in Christ.
3. The question is not concerning outward sin; whether a child of God commit sin or no. We all agree and earnestly maintain, " He that committeth sin is of the Devil." We agree, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." Neither do we now inquire, VVlietlier inward sin will always remain in the children of God; Whether sin will continue in the soul, as long as it continues in the body: nor yet do we inquire, Whether a justified person may relapse either into inward or outward sin ; but simply this, Is a justified or regenerate man freed from all sin as soon as he is justified? Is there then no sin in his heart ?—nor ever after, unless he fall from grace?
4. We allow that the state of a justified person is inexpressibly great and glorious. He is born again, " not of blood, nor of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." He is a child of God, a member of Christ, an heir of the kingdom of heaven. "The peace of God, which passethall understanding, keepeth his heart and mind in Christ Jesus." His very body is a "temple of the Holy Ghost," and an "habitation of God through the Spirit." He is " created anew in Christ Jesus :" he is washed, he is sanctified. His heart is purified by faith; he is cleansed "from the corruption that is in the world ;" "the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him." And so long as he "walketh in love," (which he may always do,) he worships God in spirit and in truth. He keepeth the commandments of God, and doeth those things that arc pleasing in his sight; so exercising himself as to "have a conscience void of offence, toward God and toward man; " and he has power both over outward and inward sin, even from the moment he is justified.
III. 1. But was he not then freed from all sin, so that there is no sin in his heart? I cannot say this; I cannot believe it; because St. Paul says the contrary. He is speaking to believers, and describing the state of believers in general, when he says, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: these are contrary the one to the other." (Gal. v. 17-) Nothing can be more express. The Apostle here directly affirms that the flesh, evil nature, opposes the Spirit, even in believers; that even in the regenerate, there are two principles, " contrary the one to the other."
2. Again: When he writes to the believers at Corinth, to those who were sanctified in Christ Jesus, (1 Cor. i. 2,) he says, "I, brethren, could not speak unto you, as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal?" (Chap. iii. ver. 1—3.) Now here the Apostle speaks tfnto those who were unquestionably believers,—whom in the same breath he styles his brethren in Christ,—as being still, in a measure, carnal. He affirms, there was envying, (an evil temper,) occasioning strife among thein, and yet does not give the least intimation that they had lost their faith. Nay, he manifestly declares they had not; for then they would not have been babes in Christ. And (what is most remarkable of all) he speaks of being carnal, and babes in Christ, as one and the same thing; plainly showing that every believer is (in a degree) carnal, while he is only a babe in Christ. v
3. Indeed this grand point, that there are two contrary principles in believers, nature and grace, the flesh and the Spirit, runs through all the Epistles of St. Paul, yea, through ail the Holy Scriptures; almost all the directions and exhortations therein, arc founded on this supposition; pointing at wrong tempers or practices in those who are, notwithstanding, acknowledged by the inspired writers to be believers. And they are continually exhorted to fight with and conquer these, by the power of the faith which was in them.
4. And who can doubt, but there was faith in the Angel of the Church of Ephesus, when our Lord said to him, "I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience: thou hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured and hast not fainted." (Rev. ii. 2,3, 4.) But was there, mean time, no sin in his heart? Yea, or Christ would not have added, "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." This was a real sin which God saw in his heart; of which, accordingly, he is exhorted to repent: and yet we have no authority to say, that even then he had no faith.
5. Nay, the Angel of the Church at Pergamos, also, is exhorted to repent, which implies sin, though our Lord expressly says, "Thou hast not denied my faith." (Ver. 13,16.) And to the Angel of the Church in Sardis, he says, " Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." The good which remained was ready to die; but was not actually dead. (Chap. iii. 2.) So there was still a spark of faith even in him; which he is accordingly commanded to hold fast. (Ver. 3.)
6. Once more: When the Apostle exhorts believers to "cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit," (2 Cor. vii. 1,) he plainly teaches, that those believers were not yet cleansed therefrom.
Will you auswer, "He that abstains from all appearance of evil," docs ipso facto "cleanse himself from all filthiness." Not in any wise. For instance: A man reviles me: I feci resentment; which is filthiness of spirit: yet I say not a word. Here I " abstain from all appearance of evil;" but this does not cleanse me from that filthiness of spirit, as I experience to my sorrow.
7- And as this position, There is no Sin in a Believer, no carnal mind, no bent to backsliding, is thus contrary to the Word of God, so it is to the Experience of his children. These continually feel an heart bent to backsliding; a natural tendency to evil; a proneness to depart from God, and cleave to the things of earth. They arc daily sensible of sin remaining in their heart, pride, self-will, unbelief; and of sin cleaving to all they speak and do, even their best actions and holiest duties. Yet at the same tunc they "know that they are of God;" they cannot doubt of it for a moment. They feel his Spirit clearly "witnessing with their spirit, that they are the children of God." They " rejoice in God through Christ Jesus, by whom they have now received the atonement." So that they arc equally assured, that sin is in them, anil that "Christ is in them the hope of glory."
8. " But can Christ be in the same heart where sin is?" Undoubtedly he can. Otherwise it never could be saved therefrom. Where the sickness is, there is the Physician,
"Carrying on his work within,
Christ indeed cannot reign, where sin reigns; neither will he dwelt where any sin is allowed. But he is and dwells in the heart of every believer, who is fighting against ali sin ; although it be not yet purified, according to the purification of the sanctuary.
0. It has been observed before, that the opposite doctrine, That there is no sin in believers, is quite new in the church of Christ; that it was never heard of for seventeen hundred years; iicver till it was discovered by Count Zinzcndorf. I do not remember to have seen the least intimation of it, either in any ancient or modern writer; unless perhaps in some of the wild, rantingAntinomians. And these likewise say and unsay, acknowledging there is sin in their flesh, although no sin in their heart. But whatever doctrine is new must be wrong; for the old religion is the only true one; and 110 doctrine can be right, unless it is the very same "which was from the beginning."