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surd, because if it be true, then saints are sometimes sinners, and just like the rest of the wicked world.
This objection is more ambiguous than pertinent. Saint signifies a holy, and sinner a sinful, character. But a single volition, or a single external action, does not form a character, which is always founded on a course of conduct One man is called industrious, and another is called idle. But the character of the industrious man is founded on a general habit, and not on a particular instance of industry; and the character of the idle man is founded on a general habit, and not on a particular instance of idleness. These cases will apply to saints and sinners. A saint is one, who habitually obeys, though he sometimes disobeys, the divine commands. A sinner is one, who hạbitually disobeys God, and never does any thing pleasing in his sight, Though a saint, therefore, may sometimes feel and act just like a sinner; yet he deserves not the character of a sinner, because he habitually feels and acts very differently from a total enmity to God. An industrious man may be idle, and feel and act just like an idle man, for a few moments or a few hours, but it would be extremely absurd to give him the character of an idle man, on account of such particular instances of idleness. He has the habit of industry, and will continue habitually industrious, through the course of his life. So the saint, who is imperfect, and sometimes feels and acts like a sinner, will continue habitually holy and obedient to the end of his days. Now the Scripture characterizes saints and sinners, upon the ground of their habitual feelings and conduct; and, therefore, saints do not forfeit their character by their moral imperfection, though it consists in feeling and acting sometimes like sinners. It is probable, the die vine constitution does not admit of any long interval
between one holy exercise and another, in the hearts of saints. Perhaps, they seldom neglect any duty, or commit any transgression, without having some holy exercises, which condemn and oppose their sinful feelings and conduct. It is to be presumed, that they never live months, nor weeks, nor days, destitute of right affections. And very often their holy and unholy exercises are as nearly co-existent as they can be. But though there may be some moments or hours, in which they are totally sinful, as well as some in which they are entirely holy; yet such sinful seasons do not in the least militate against their christian character, but only exhibit painful evidence, that they are really in a state of moral imperfection.
It may be said, that if saints are sometimes totally destitute of gracious affections, then they actually fall from grace; which is contrary to the general tenor of Scripture.pl
We have, indeed, sufficient evidence in the word of God, that all true believers, who have been regenerated and justified, shall receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls. But this may be
. true, though the imperfection of saints consists in positively evil exercises, which for the time exclude holy affections. It is the constitution of God, that where he has given one holy exercise, he will give another, and another, until the subject of grace is ripened for heaven. But God has no where promised, that such gracious exercises in the heart of the true believer shall never be interrupted by sinful ones. It is, therefore, no more inconsistent with the certainty of the final salvation of saints, that their exercises of grace are sometimes interTupted, than that they are sometimes low and languid. God can as easily renew a train of holy exercises, after it has been interrupted, as he can revive or strengthen a train of low and languishing affections. The truth is, the final salvation of all true believers depends upon God's working in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure; and therefore their salvation is absolutely certain, whether he constantly produces holy affections in their hearts, or whether he sometimes withdraws his gracious influences from them. It is sufficient for them to be assured, that “He who has begun a good work in them will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
But it may be still further said, that all true believers have a principle of grace, which was implanted in regeneration, and which will not admit of their being totally destitute of holiness, for a single moment.
In answer to this objection, it seems necessary to examine the principal passages of Scripture, upon which it is founded. These are such as the following: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. If any man be in Christ he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things."
Here it is natural to remark, in the first place, that these texts cannot mean, that a principle of holiness is implanted in the mind in regeneration. For holiness is love, and love requires no other principles, than those of moral agency, which are common to all moral agents. A sinner has no need of a new natural principle, in order to exercise holy affections; nor is any such principle required. All that the divine law requires of any man is the exercise of true love, or uni
versal benevolence. This has been shown in a former discourse.* If these texts, therefore, do not prove, that saints have a gracious principle, then they do not prove, that they are always in the actual possession and exercise of grace.
The next remark is, that the passages under consid. eration prove too much, and of consequence, prove nothing to the purpose, for which they are brought. They prove, if taken literally, that when the heart of flesh is given, the heart of stone is totally and finally removed; that when a man is born of the Spirit, all his moral exercises become spiritual or truly holy; that when a man is made a new creature, all his old sinful exercises are done away, and all his moral affections become new; that when the treasure of the heart is made good, nothing but pure holiness or moral goodness can proceed from it. In a word, they prove, that when once the good seed is sown in the heart, it remains and produces nothing but good fruit. But how is all this consistent with the truth, which has been established in this discourse, and which is granted by all who plead for a principle of grace, that saints are in a state of imperfection and have the remains of moral corruption? We nust, therefore, look for some different interpretation of these figurative expressions of Scripture.
This leads us to observe in the last place, that these texts, in their true meaning, support the very sentiment,
, which they are supposed to refute. They plainly intimate, that regeneration is the production of real holiness, which is totally distinct from sin, and can never be united or blended with it. For, if the giving of the heart of flesh be the taking away of the heart of stone, then the heart of stone and the heart of flesh are
* Page 208.
totally distinct; if that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, then flesh and spirit are totally distinct; if a man's becom. ing a new creature removes all his old exercises, then his new exercises are totally distinct from his old; or if he that is born of God sinneth not, because his seed remaineth in him, then that seed, which our Savior calls spirit, is totally distinct from such sinful exercises, as all must allow, more or less prevail in the best of saiots. On this supposition, that grace is perfectly pure and entirely distinct from all the sinful exercises, all the Seripture représentations of the renovation of the heart may be explained, in consistency with the
moral agency and with the moral imperfection of good men. It now appears, we trust, that there is no -solid objection against the leading sentiment in this discourse, that all the criminal imperfection of saints consists in positively sinful affections.