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him, and cast him in prison, for he was in a rage, 2 Chron. xvi. 10. A man would think that when he was recovered out of this distemper, it might have made him humble and watchful against other sins : but it was not so; for it is added, that he oppressed some of the people at the same time; and he rested not there, but in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but unto physicians;' unto persecution he added oppression, and unto that unbelief; ver. 12. Yet, notwithstanding all this,'the heart of Asa was perfect with the Lord all his days, 1 Kings xv. 14. that is, he had a prevalent sincerity in him notwithstanding these miscarriages. But he was, doubtless, under the power of great hardness of heart. So is it with others in the like cases, when one sin makes them not careful and watchful against another. As when men have stained themselves with intemperance of life, they may fall into excess of passion in their families and relations ; or into a neglect of duty, or take any other crooked steps in their walk. This argues a great prevalency of sin in the soul, although, as we see in the example of Asa, it is not an infallible evidence of its dominion; yet of that nature it is, wherewith divine peace and consolation are inconsistent.
3. When men fall into such unspiritual frames, such deadness and decays, as from which they are not recoverable by the ordinary means of grace, it is a certain evidence of hardness of heart, and the prevalency of sin therein. It is so, whether this be the fault of churches or of particular persons. The preaching of the word is the especial divine ordinance for the healing and recovery of backsliders in heart or life. Where this will not effect it in any, but they will go on frowardly in the ways of their own hearts, unless God take some extraordinary course with them, they are on the brink of ruin, and live on sovereign grace alone. .
Thus was it with David. After his great sin, there is no doubt but he attended unto all ordinances of divine worship, which are the ordinary means of the preservation and recovery of sinners from their backslidings. Howbeit they had not this effect upon him; he lived impenitently in his sin, until God was pleased to use extraordinary means in the especial message of Nathan, and the death of his child, for his awakening and recovery.
And thus God will deal sometimes with churches and end may
persons. Where ordinary means for their recovery will not effect it, he will by sovereign grace, and it may be by a concurrence of extraordinary providence, heal, revive, and save them. So he promiseth to do, Isa. Ivii. 16–19.
But where this is trusted unto, in the neglect of the ordinary means of healing, seeing there is no direct promise of it, but it is a case reserved unto absolute sovereignty, the
be bitterness and sorrow. And let them take heed who are under this frame; for although God may deliver them, yet it will be by 'terrible things;' as Psal. Ixv. 5. Such terrible things as wherein he will take vengeance of their inventions, Psal. xcix. 8. though he do forgive them. So David affirms of himself, that God in his dealing with him, had broken all his bones, Psal.li. 8.
I fear this is the present case of many churches and professors at this day. It is evident that they are fallen under many spiritual decays. Neither have the ordinary means of grace, repentance, and humiliation, though backed with various providential warnings, been efficacious to their recovery. It is greatly to be feared that God will use some severe dispensation in terrible things towards them for their awakening; or, which is more dreadful, withdraw his presence from them.
4. Of the same nature it is, and argues no small power of this evil, when men satisfy and please themselves in an unmortified unfruitful profession; a severe symptom of the dominion of sin. And there are three things that manifest the consistency of such a profession, with hardness of heart; or, are fruits of it therein. 1. A neglect of the principal duties of it.
Such are mortification in themselves, and usefulness or fruitfulness towards others. A deficiency and neglect in these things are evident amongst many that profess religion. It doth not appear that in any thing they seriously endeavour the mortification of their lusts, their pride, their passion, their love of the world, their inordinate desires and sensual appetites. They either indulge unto them all, or at least they maintain not a constant conflict against them. And, as' unto use-' fulness in the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ, or those good works which are the evidence of a living faith, they are openly barren in them. Now, whereas these are the principal dictates of that
religion which they do profess, their neglect of them, their deficiency in them proceeds from a hardness of heart, overpowering their light and convictions. And what shall long, in such a case, stop sin out of the throne ? Self-pleasing and satisfaction in such a profession argues a very dangerous state and habit of mind. Sin may have a full dominion under such a profession.
2. The admission of an habitual formality into the performance of religious duties, is of the same nature.
In some the power of sin (as we observed before) prevails unto the neglect and omission of such duties. Others continue the observation, but are so formal and lifeless in them, so careless as unto the exerting or exercise of grace in them, as gives an uncontrollable evidence of the power of sin, and a spiritual senselessness of heart. There is nothing that the Scripture doth more frequently and severely condemn, nor give as a character of hypocrites, than a diligent attendance unto a multiplication of duties, whilst the heart is not spiritually engaged in them. For this cause the Lord Christ threatened the utter rejection of the lukewarm church of Laodicea. And God pronounceth a most severe sentence against all that are guilty of it, Isa. xxix. 13, 14. Yet thus it may be with many, and that thus it hath been with them, many do manifest by their open apostacy, which is the common event of this frame and course long continued in; for some in the daily performance of religious duties for a season, do exercise and preserve their gifts, but there being no exercise of grace in them, after awhile those gifts also do wither and decay. They are under the power of the evil whereof we treat, namely, a hard and senseless heart, that approve
of themselves in such a lifeless, heartless profession of religion, and performance of the duties thereof.
3. When men grow senseless under the dispensation of the word, and do not at all profit by it. The general ends for preaching the word unto believers, are, 1. The increase of spiritual light, knowledge, and understanding in them. 2. The growth of grace enabling to obedience. 3. Holy excitation of grace by impressions of its power in the communication of the mind, will, love, and grace of God unto our souls; which is attended with, 4. An impression on the affections, renewing and making them more holy and heavenly
continually; with 5. Direction and administration of spiritual strength against temptations and corruptions; and, 6. Fruitfulness in the works and duties of obedience.
Where men can abide under the dispensation of the word, without any of these effects on their minds, consciences, or lives, they are greatly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin; as Heb. iii. 12, 13. this case is stated. Now whether this be,
1. From that carelessness and security which is grown on all sorts of persons, against which God doth justly express his indignation, by withholding the power and efficacy of his word, in its administration from them. Or,
2. From an increase of an unsanctified light and gifts, which fill men with high thoughts of themselves, and keep them off from that humble frame which alone is teachable. Or,
3. From a loss of all due reverence unto the ministry, as God's ordinance for all the ends of the word, with a secret fortification of conscience by prejudices against its power, from the suggestions of Satan. Or,
4. From the love of sin, which the heart would shelter and secure from the efficacy of the word: or from what other cause soever it be, it proceeds from a dangerous hardness of heart, from the power of sin.
Where this is the state of the minds of men, where this hardness is thus prevalent in them, I do not, no man can, give them assurance that sin hath not the dominion in them. But because all these things are capable of various degrees, it may not be concluded absolutely from any or all of them in any degree, that so it is. But this we may safely conclude, 1. That it is impossible for any man in whom this evil frame is found in any degree, and not sincerely endeavoured against, to keep any true solid peace with God, or in his own soul; what seems to be so in him is but a ruinous security. 2. That this is the high road unto final obduration and impenitency; and therefore, 3. It is the present duty of those who have any care of their souls, to shake themselves out of this dust, and not to give themselves any rest until they are entered into the paths of recovery. The calls of God for a return unto such backsliders in heart are multiplied, the reasons for it and motives unto it are innunerable; this ought never to depart from their minds, that without it they shall eternally perish, and know not how soon they may be overtaken with that destruction.
Thus far have we proceeded in the inquiry, Whether sin hath the dominion in us or no ? There are on the other side many evidences of the rule of grace, sufficient to discard the pleas and pretences of sín unto the throne: but the consideration of them is not my present design ; I have only examined the pleas of sin, which render the inquiry difficult and the case dubious. And they arise all from the actings of sin in us, as it fights against the soul, which is its proper and constant work, 1 Pet. ü. 11, 12. It doth so against the design of the law, which is to live to God; against the order and peace of it, which it disturbs; and against its eternal blessedness, which it would deprive it of. The examination of the pretences insisted on, may be of some use to them that are sincere.
But on the other hand, there are uncontrollable evidences of the dominion of sin in men, some whereof I shall mention, and only mention, because they need neither proof nor illustration.
1. It is so where sin hath possessed the will. And it hath possessed the will when there are no restraints from sinning taken from its nature but its consequents only. 2. When men proclaim their sins and hide them not; when they boast in them and of them, as it is with multitudes : or, 3. Approve of themselves in any known sin, without renewed · repentance; as drunkenness, uncleanness, swearing, and the like: or, 4. Live in the neglect of religious duties in their closets and families; whence all their public attendance unto them is but hypocrisy: or, 5. Have an enmity to true holiness, and the power of godliness : or, 6. Are visible apostates from profession, especially if they add, as is usual, persecution to their apostacy: or, 7. Are ignorant of the sanctifying principles of the gospel and Christian religion : or, 8. Are despisers of the means of conversion : or, 9. Live in security under open providential warnings and calls to repentance: or, 10. Are enemies in their minds unto the true interest of Christ in the world. Where these things and the like are found, there is no question what it is that hath dominion and bears rule in the minds of men. This