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THE TRUE CHARACTER OF GOOD MEN DELINEA
ROMANS vii, 18. For to will is present with me; but how to perform
that which is good, I find not:
IT is a question among expositors, whether the Apostle is here expressing the pious feelings of his own heart; or whether he is here describing the feelings of a person destitute of grace. To determine this point, it seems necessary to examine the context, which is the best way to discover his true meaning. From the seventh to the ninth verse, he describes the exercises of his own mind, before he was awakened from his carnal ease and stupidity. “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Nay, I had not known sin but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin taking occasion by the commandment wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once." This exactly agrees with another description, which he gives of himself, while in the state of nature. “If any man thinketh, that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more. Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews, as touching the law a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Such was his character and his opinion of himself, before he knew the grace of God in truth. But after his
conversion, his views and feelings were totally altered. And this change he describes, from the ninth to the eleventh verse. “But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.” What follows in this chapter is a description of himself as a real, though imperfect saint. “Wherefore the law is holy; and the commandment holy, just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: 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 which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not.” Who can doubt, whether the Apostle is here speaking of himself? or whether he is speaking of himself as a real christian? He says, he does not allow of any evil in himself, but sincerely wishes to avoid all sin. This is more than any unrenewed sinner can sincerely say, after he has been awakened to see his own heart. The Apostle, therefore, must be speaking of his own gracious exercises, in these verses. And if this be true, it is easy to understand what he means in the words, which have been selected as the foundation of the ensuing discourse. “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good, I find not." This is the language of every christian, who can sincerely say, I desire to be perfectly holy; but I find by daily experience, that I fall short of such a desirable attainment. Agreeably, therefore, to the spirit of the text, I shall,
I. Show that saints desire to be perfectly holy.
III. Show wherein their imperfection in holiness consists.
I. I am to show, that saints desire to be perfectly holy.
Holiness is desirable in its own nature, and none can possess the least degree of it, without desiring to possess it in perfection. The truth of this will appear from two things, which are essential to all real saints. One is, that they sincerely love the divine law. The Apostle says, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” David frequently makes the same declaration. “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart. O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day. I love thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold.” And he says of every good man, “His delight is in the law of the Lord! and in his law doth he meditate day and night." This is the law of perfection, or at least includes it, which saith to every person, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbor as thyself.” No man can love this law, without desiring that perfect holiness, which it absolutely enjoins. Those, therefore, who sincerely desire to obey the law of God in its full extent, must necessarily desire to be entirely conformed to the divine will, which is the perfection of holiness.
Besides, saints not only love the law of perfection, but heartily hate every transgression of it. The Apostle expressly declares, that sin is the object of bis per fect abhorrence. "For that which I do, I allow not:
for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that - do I. Now it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." This is also the language of the pious Psalmist, “I hate vain thoughts. I hate and abhor lying. I hate every false way.” Such are the feelings of all those, who have been renewed in the temper of their minds, and have put off the old man with his deeds. They hate sin in every form, and abhor it in themselves as much as in others. Thus it appears from the love, which good men have to the divine law, and from the hatred, which they have to every transgression of it, that they do sincerely desire to be perfectly holy, . But yet,
II. They are imperfect in holiness.
The Scripture represents the most eminent saints, as falling short of perfection in this life. Solomon says, “There is no man that sinneth not.” Again he says, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not." And he scruples not to ask this serious question, "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" The Apostle John asserts, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. These divine declarations concerning the imperfection of good men, entirely harmonize with their own declarations concerning themselves. Job says unto God, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." David bitterly bewails his remaining corruption of heart. “Mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink, and are corrupt, because of my
I proceed to show,
First. Let us inquire, whether the imperfection of saints can consist in the mere weakness of their holy exercises. Those, who embrace this opinion, suppose