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And let not any iniquity have dominion over me.—Ver. 133.
FOR the second branch of the prayer I observe—
Doct. 2. That the dominion of sin is a great evil, and ought earnestly to be deprecated, even by the children of God.
1. What is the dominion of sin.
2. That it is a great evil.
3. Why the saints should deprecate this evil.
First, What is the dominion of sin? It may be known by some distinctions.
1. There is a dominion of sin that is gross and sensible, and a dominion of sin that is more secret and close.
[1.] More gross and sensible. For though sin do reign in every one by nature, yet this dominion more sensibly appears in some than others, who are given up to be visibly under the dominion of sin, as the just fruit of their voluntary living under that yoke; and usually these are set forth as a warning to the rest of the world; God hangs them up in chains of darkness in the sight of men, as an instance of this woful slavery, that every man that seeth them, and is acquainted with their course of life, may say without breach of charity, There goes one that declares himself to be a servant of sin. This is either to sin in general, or to some particular sin.
(1.) To sin in general. He, whosoever he be, that, instead of trembling at God’s word, scoffeth at it, and maketh more account of this world than of the will of God, of the fashions of men than of God’s word, and thinketh the scorn of a base worm that would deride him for godliness a greater terror than the wrath of God, and the love of his carnal company a greater happiness than communion with Christ, and instead of working out his salvation with fear and trembling, runneth into all excess of riot, and carelessly neglecteth his precious soul, while he pampereth his frail body, and doth voluntarily and ordinarily leave the boat to the stream, give up himself to serve his corruption without resistance or crying to Christ for help, this man is without dispute, and in the eye of the world a slave to sin: Rom. vi. 16, ‘Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?’ It is an apparent case. A man that giveth up himself to go on in the ways of his own heart, restraining himself in nothing which it affects, he is one of sin’s slaves. So saith our Lord Christ: John viii. 34, ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.’ He needeth no further doubt nor debate about the matter. He that goeth on in a trade of sin, and maketh that his work and business in the world, without serious looking after the saving of his soul, is one in whom sin reigneth.
(2.) So some particular sins. As we have instances of carnal wretches in general, so of some poor captive souls that remain under the full power and tyranny of this or that lust, and are so remarkable for their slavery and bondage under it that the world will point at them and say, There goeth a glutton, a drunkard, an adulterer, or covetous worldling, a proud envious person; Their sin is broken out into some filthy sore or scab that is visible to every eye, either their covetousness or gluttony or ambitious affectation of worldly greatness, one whose god is his belly, who is a slave to appetite: 2 Peter ii. 19, ‘For of whom a man is overcome, of the same he is brought in bond age.’ They grow proverbial for giving up themselves wholly to such a conquering and prevailing lust. As in the natural man several men have their distinct excellences, some are famous for a strong sight, some for a quick ear, some for a nimble tongue, some for agility of body; so these for notable excesses in some corruption. Or as the saints of God are eminent for some special graces, as Abraham for faith, Moses for meekness, Job for patience, and Joseph for chastity, and Paul for zeal, Timothy for temperance; so these have their notorious and contrary blemishes.
[2.] There is a more secret and close dominion of sin, that is varnished over with a fair appearance. Men have many good qualities and no notorious blemishes; but yet some sensitive, good, and created thing sitteth nearest the heart, and occupieth the room and place of God, that is loved, respected, served instead of God, or more than God. That which is our chiefest good and last end is our god, or occupieth the room of God. So our Lord telleth us, Mat. vi. 24, ‘No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or will hold to the one and despise the other: ye cannot serve God and mammon;’ and John v. 44, ‘How can ye believe, that seek honour one from another, and not the honour that cometh from God only?’ and Luke xiv. 26, ‘If a man come to me, and hate not father and mother,’ &c. We must be dead not only to carnal pleasure but to credit, estate, yea, life and all. It must not sit nearest the heart, nor bring it under its command and power: 1 Cor. vi. 12, ‘All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’ We are besotted and bewitched with some created thing, that we cannot part with it. or leave it for God’s sake, or notwithstanding all the mischief it is to the interest of his soul. Though a man serveth it cunningly, closely, and by a cleanly conveyance, yet all his religion is but either to hide or feed his lust.
2. Distinction. There is a predominancy of one sin over another, and a predominancy of sin over grace. In the first sense, renewed men may be said to have some reigning corruption or predominant sin, namely, in comparison of other sins. That such predominant sins they have appeareth by the great sway and power they bear in commanding other evils to be either committed or forborne, accordingly as they contribute to their advancement; as a wen or a strain draweth all the noxious humours to itself. So it appeareth by the violent and frequent relapses of the saints into them, or their unwillingness to admit of admonition and reproof for them, or their falling into them out of an inward propensity, when outward temptations are none, or weak, or very few; some sins that are less mortified than others, or unto which they are carried by a natural inclination, constitution, or education. Thus David had his iniquity, Ps. xviii. 23, whether it were hastiness or distrust of the promise, or an inclination to revenge him self. Some sins that men favour most, and are most urgent and importunate upon them, and steal away their hearts most from God; the great pond into which other rivulets or streams of iniquity do empty themselves; that sin that outgroweth all the rest, as the tall tree taketh away the nourishment from the under shrubs; that which is loved and delighted in above other sins; and when other sins will not prevail, the devil sets this a-work; as the disciples looked upon the disciple whom Jesus loved; when Christ told them that one of them should betray him, Simon Peter beckoned to him that he should ask who it was of whom he spake, John xiii. 23, 24. Well, then, in regard of other sins, one may reign and sit in the throne of the heart, be beloved more than another, but not in regard of predominancy over grace; for that is contrary to the new nature, that sin should have the upper hand constantly and universally in the soul: for any one thing, though never so lawful in itself, habitually loved more than God, will not stand with sincerity, Luke xiv. 26. If not our natural comforts, certainly not our carnal lusts. To love anything apart from Christ, or against Christ, or above Christ, is a dispossessing Christ, or casting him out of the throne.
3. Distinction. There is a twofold prevalency and dominion of sin—actual or habitual; actual is only for the time, habitual for a constancy. Though a regenerate man be not one that lets sin- reign over him habitually, yet too often doth sin reign over him actually as to some particular act of sin.
[1.] The habitual reign of sin may be known by the general frame and state of the heart and life, where it is constantly yielded unto, or not opposed, but breaketh out without control, and beareth sway with delight. Men give the bridle to sin, and let it lead them where they will. That is peccatum regnans, cui homo nec vult, nec potest resistere, so Coppen. The sinner neither can nor will resist, non potest, because usually after many lapses God giveth up men unto penal or judicial hardness of heart. But he is willingly taking these bonds and chains upon himself. Such are said, 2 Peter iii. 3, ‘To walk after their own lusts;’ to ‘live in sin,’ Rom. vi. 2; to be ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ Eph. ii. 1; to ‘serve divers lusts and pleasures,’ Titus iii. 3; to ‘draw on iniquity with cart ropes,’ Isa. v. 18. Such as addict and give over themselves to a trade of sin with delight and full consent.
[2.] Actually, when we do that which is evil against our consciences, or yield pro hic et nunc to obey sin in the lusts thereof; when it gaineth our consent for the time, but the general frame and state of the heart is against it. In short, when sin is perfected into some evil action, or (in the apostle’s speech) when lust hath conceived and brought forth sin, James ii. 15; that is, some heinous and enormous offence. At that time, no question it hath the upper hand, and carrieth it from grace, and the flesh doth show itself in them more than the spirit. A man may please a lesser friend before a greater in an act or two. Every presumptuous act doth for that time put the sceptre into sin’s hand. Note, that both predominants spoken of in the former distinction, and the actual reign of sin in this, do much prejudice a Christian, waste his conscience, hinder his joy of faith; and if not guarded, and we do not take up in time, or if often, cannot be excused from habitual reign. They are rare by the violence of a great temptation, unlikely acts, as for a hen to bring forth the egg of a crow.
4. The next distinction is of sins reigning with a full and plenary consent, and with reluctancy and contradiction; as Herod reigned over the Jews for many years by mere force, they opposing him and contradicting him, but afterwards willingly consented to his government: so sin reigneth in some, who readily, willingly obey the lusts thereof, and take its bonds and chains upon them. And on the godly it doth sometimes prevail, yet not quietly and without blows: ‘The evil which I hate that do I,’ Rom. vii. 15. They are in combat and conflict with it. The virgin that cried out was innocent; it was a ravishment, not a consent, peccatum patitur, non facit, as Bernard. The seed of God is disliking and opposing, 1 John iii. 9. They are sometimes foiled, but they keep up their resistance. Sin gets the mastery in some acts, but as a tyrant, not a lawful possessor. They groan under that oppression, ever strive for liberty and freedom, and in time recover it. Chrysostom hath an expression on that of Rom. vi. 12, ‘Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies,’ &c., οὐκ εἶπε μὴ τυραννεῖτο, ἀλλὰ μὴ βασιλευέτω. Sin will play the tyrant in the best heart, but let it not have a quiet reign. It will take advantage of present distempers and difficulties; it may encroach upon us, but it hath not our hearts: whereas it is otherwise if a man be not in arms against it, but liveth in peace and good contentment under the vigour and life of his lusts; there is no opposition unless it be some checks of a natural conscience, or a few thoughts of fear and shame, or some temporal mischief and inconvenience; no opposition of a renewed heart, no hatred of it and opposition as it is an offence to God; then your condition is evil.
Secondly, That it is a great evil, &c. It must needs be so—
1. Because it is a renouncing of the government of Christ. We transfer the kingdom from him to Satan, and take the sceptre out of his hands, when we give way to the reign of sin. What though we do not formally intend this, yet virtually we do so, and so God will account it. It is finis operis, though not operantis. Look, as the setting up of a usurper is the rejection of the lawful king, so the setting up of sin is the setting up of Satan, John viii. 44, and by consequence a laying aside of Christ; for every degree of service done to him includeth a like degree or portion of treason and infidelity to Christ. For a man cannot serve two masters, Mat. vi. 24, cannot have two chief goods at the same time; therefore he that cleaveth to the one refuseth the other. If you cleave to sin, you renounce Christ; and though we profess Christ to be our Lord, that will not help the matter, Mat. vi. 21; we are, for all that, as true bondmen to Satan as the heathen that offered sacrifice to him. A drunken or wanton Christian giveth the devil as much interest in him as those that sacrificed to Bacchus or Priapus or Venus; for he doth as absolutely dispose and command your affections as he did theirs: you are his by possession and occupation; the bond of your servitude to Satan is altogether as firm and strong as their rites of worship. Now we that know Christ’s right both by purchase and covenant, cannot but know what a great sin this is. By purchase we are his: 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20, ‘Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price.’ The buyer hath a power over what he hath bought. We were lost and sold; we sold ourselves against all right and justice, and Christ was pleased to redeem us, and that with no slight thing, but with his own blood, 1 Peter i. 18, 19. How can you look your Redeemer in the face at the last day? If you have any sense and belief of Christian mysteries, you should be afraid to rob Christ of his purchase: 1 Cor. vi. 15, ‘Shall I take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.’ He hath bought you to this very end, that you may be no longer under the slavery of sin, but under his blessed government and the sceptre of his Spirit: Titus ii. 14, ‘He hath redeemed us from all iniquity.’ This was his end, to set us at liberty, and to free us from our sins; therefore, for us to despise the benefit, and to count our bondage a delight, yea, to build up that which he came to destroy; this is as great an affront to Christ as can be. But we are not only his by purchase, but his by covenant: Ezek. xvi. 8, ‘I entered into a covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine.’ This was ratified in baptism, where we dedicated ourselves to the Lord’s use and service; and shall we rescind our baptismal vows, and give the sovereignty to another, after we have resigned ourselves to Christ, and the hands of consecration have passed upon us? When Ananias had dedicated that which was in his power, and kept back part for private use, God struck him dead in the place, Acts v. 5. And if we alienate ourselves, who were Christ’s before the consecration, of how much sorer vengeance shall we be guilty? God’s complaint was just: Ezek. xvi. 20, ‘Thou hast taken thy sons and thy daughters, whom thou hast born unto me, and these hast thou sacrificed unto them to be devoured.’ And if Satan hath a full interest in you by doing his lusts, as he had in them by that rite of worship, is not the wrong done to God the same?
2. It is a sure note of a carnal heart; for it is not only incongruous that a renewed man should let sin reign, but impossible. De jure it ought not, de facto it shall not be. The exhortation and promise: Rom. vi. 12, with xiv. 12, ‘Let not sin reign in your mortal bodies.’ There is the exhortation; while you have these mortal bodies, sin will dwell in you, but let it not reign over you. God suffereth it to dwell in us for our exercise, not our ruin. Then the promise, ver. 14, ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.’ Let not, shall not. It is true sin remaineth in the godly, but it reigneth not there. It is dejectum quodammodo, non ejectum tamen. Cast down in regard of regency, not cast out in regard of inherency. Like the beasts in Daniel, chap, vii. 12, ‘They had their dominion taken away, though their lives prolonged for a season;’ some degree of life, but their reign broken. The Israelites could not wholly expel the Canaanites, yet they kept them under. There will be pride, earthliness, unbelief, and sensuality dwelling, moving, working in them; but it hath not its wonted power over them. Christ will not reckon men slaves to sin by their having sin in them, nor yet by their daily failings and infirmities, or by their falling now and then into foul faults by the violence of a temptation, unless they make a constant trade of sin, and be under the dominion of it without control, and set up no course of mortification against it.
3. The reign of sin is so mischievous. Sin, when it once gets the throne, groweth outrageous, and involveth us in many inconveniences ere we can get out again. Therefore they that know the service of sin, as we all do by sad experience, should use all caution that it never bring them into bondage again. The work and wages of sin are very different from God’s work and wages. The apostle compareth them when he dissuadeth them from the reign of sin: Rom. vi. 21, 22, ‘For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had you then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now, being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.’ You have had full experience of the fruits of sin, of Satan’s work; what fruit then? Before you had tasted better things, before you had a contrary principle set up in your hearts; you are ashamed now to think of that course, now you know better things. But what fruit then? Satan’s work is drudgery, and his reward death. The devil hath one bad property, which no other master, how cruel soever, hath—to plague and torment them most which have done him most continual and faithful service. Those that have sinned most have most horror, and every degree of service hath a proportionable degree of shame and punishment. He is an unreasonable tyrant in exacting service without rest and intermission. The most cruel oppressors, Turks and infidels, give some rest to their captives; but sin is unsatisfiable. Men spend all their means and all their time and all their strength in pursuit of it; yet all is little enough. And what is the reward of all but death and destruction? Now judge you to whom should we yield obedience, and who hath most right to be sovereign? He who made us and redeemed us, and preserveth us every day, none but he can claim title to us; he to whom we are debtors by so many vows, so many obligations; or else Satan, our worst enemy, who is posting us on to our own destruction?
4. It is so uncomely, and misbecoming the new estate, wherein we have so many helps and encouragements to resist sin.
[1.] For helps, you have an opposite principle to give check to it, the seed of God, or new nature. Since Christ hath put grace into your hearts to resist sin, it is your duty not to suffer it to be idle and unfruitful: Rom. vi. 11, 12, ‘Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.’ You want no. ability to encourage; you have an observing witness to give check to it, the Spirit of God, who will help you in this work, Rom. viii. 13. He will be your second; neither we without the Spirit, nor the Spirit without us. There is a life and power goeth along with every gospel truth. Laziness pretendeth want of power; but what is too hard for the Spirit? Then—
[2.] For encouragement. In every war are two notable encouragements—goodness of the quarrel, and hopes of victory; as David? 1 Sam. xvii. 36. We have these in our conflict and combat with sin. (1.) Our quarrel and our cause is good; it is the quarrel of the Lord of hosts which you fight. We stand with Christ our redeemer, who came, ἵνα λύσῃ, that he might destroy the works of the devil. He hath begun the battle; we do but labour to keep under that enemy which Christ hath begun to slay and destroy. Sin is not only an enemy to us, but to him. It is against him, and hindereth his glory in the world, and the subjection of his creatures and servants. Were it not for sin, what a glorious potentate would Christ be, even in the judgment of the world? (2.) Hope of the victory. Our strife will end, and it will end well. Those that are really, earnestly striving against sin, are sure to conquer: Rom. vi. 14, ‘Let not sin reign,’ &c. And it shall not; if there be but a likelihood of victory, we are encouraged to fight. Here a Christian may triumph before the victory. Non aeque glorietur accinctus, ac discinctus. 1 Kings xx. 11, ‘Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.’ There will come a good and happy issue in the end, even a conquest of sin. For the present we overcome it in part; it shall not finally and totally overcome us in this world; and shortly all strife will be over: Rom. xvi. 20, ‘The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.’ It is but a little while, and we shall receive the crown, and triumph over all our enemies.
Thirdly, Why the saints should deprecate this evil.
1. Because there is sin still in us all. It is a bosom enemy, that is born and bred with us; and therefore it will soon get the advantage of grace, if it be not watched and resisted; as nettles and weeds that are kindly to- the soil, will soon choke flowers and better herbs that are planted by care, and grow not of their own accord, when they are neglected, and continually rooted out. We cannot get rid of this cursed inmate till this outer tabernacle be dissolved, and this house of clay crumbled into dust. Our old nature is so inclinable to this slavery, that if God subtract his grace, what shall we do?
2. It is not only in us, but always working and striving for the mastery; it is not as other things, which, as they grow in age, are more quiet and tame; but, Rom. vii. 8, ‘Sin wrought in me all manner of concupiscence; the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.’ It is not a sleepy, but a working, stirring principle. If it were a dull and inactive habit, the danger were not so great; but ft is always exercising and putting forth itself, and seeking to gain an interest in our affections, and a command over all our actions; and therefore, unless we do our part to keep it under, we shall soon revert to our old slavery. Sin must be kept under as a slave, or else it will be above as a tyrant, and domineer.
Once more, the more it acts, the more strength it gets; as all habits are increased by action: for when we have once yielded, we are ready to yield again. Therefore any one sin let alone, yea, that which we least suspect, may bring us into subjection and captivity to the law of sin, Rom. vii. 23. It doth not only make us flexible and yielding to temptations, but it doth urge and impel us thereunto.
Again, this bondage is daily increasing, and more hard to be broken; for by multiplied acts a custom creepeth upon us, which is another nature; and that which might be remedied at first groweth more difficult. Diseases looked to at first are more easy to be cured, whereas otherwise they grow desperate; so sins before hardened into a custom, before they bring us under the power of any creature or comfort which we affect, 2 Cor. vi. 12; for then afterwards it cometh to a complete dominion and slavery, so that if a man would, he cannot help it. It behoveth, then, every child of God to do his part, that sin may not reign; for where care is not taken, it certainly will reign.
Use 1. To reprove the security and carelessness of many. David suspected himself, else he would never have made this prayer to God: Lord keep me; ‘Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.’ And we should all do so that would be safe: Prov. xxviii. 14, ‘Happy is the man that feareth alway; but he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.’ A constant watchfulness and holy jealousy and self-suspicion will be no burden to you, but a blessing. Sin deceiveth us into hardness of heart for want of taking heed. Many that are secure do not consider their danger, and therefore they are not so careful to watch over themselves, nor so humble as to implore the divine assistance, because they do not consider how soon they may be transported by a naughty heart, and brought under the power and reign of sin. Surely were we as sensible of the danger of the inward man as we are of the outward, we would resist the first motions, and not nourish and foster a temptation as we do. The saints do not tarry till the dead blow cometh, but resist the first strokes of sin; they do not tarry till it pines to death, but resist the first inclinations. An evil inclination, if it be cherished and gratified, gets ground; the longer we let it alone, the harder will our conflict be, for sin secureth its interest by degrees.
2. It showeth the fearful estate of them that lie under the dominion of sin. But who will own it?
[1.] It is certain that all men in their natural estate are in this condition. Sin doth reign where there is no principle of grace set up against it. The throne is always filled; man’s heart cannot lie empty and void. If grace doth not reign, sin reigneth. Natural men are under the power of darkness, Acts xxviii. 18, and Col. i. 13; living in a peaceable subjection to sin; till Christ come to trouble it, all is quiet; wind and tide go together.
[2.] It appeareth by your course. Many will say, ‘There is not a just man on earth, that doeth good and sinneth not;’ you are sinners as well as we. Ans. There is a difference; though there be not a good man upon earth, that sinneth not, Eccles. vii. 20, yet there is a difference. Some have not the spot of God’s children, Deut. xxxii. 5. There is a difference between sins: Lev. xiii. 24-26. God gave the priest under the law direction how to put a difference between leprous persons. So still there is a great deal of difference between numbness and death, and between dimness of sight and blindness, want of sense and want of life, between stumbling into a ditch and throwing ourselves headlong into an ocean. And so there is a difference between infirmities and iniquities, a failing out of ignorance and weakness, or some powerful temptation, and a running headlong into all ungodliness. God’s children have their failings, but a burning desire to be freed from them, though others wallow in their sin without any care of a remedy. In one there is a failing in point of duty, in the other a rebellion. Take Judas and Peter; both sinned against their Master; the one denied, the other betrayed him; the one denied him out of fear, the other betrayed him out of covetousness and greediness of gain; the one plotted his death, the other was surprised on a sudden. There is a great deal of difference between purpose and a surprise; the one wept bitterly, the other is given up to a raging despair. David did not make a trade of adultery, and bathe himself in filthy lusts. Noah was drunk, but not knowing the power of the juice of the grape. They dare not lie in this estate, but seek to get out by repentance.
[3.] Some things may beget caution, and move you to suspect yourselves; that is, when your souls readily comply with the temptation, you are at sin’s beck. If it saith, Go, you go; if it saith, Come, you come. It is of great concernment to know what goes to the determining a man’s condition, to know at whose beck he is, whether he is at the flesh’s or spirit’s beck. Ps. ciii. 20, the godly are described that they hearken unto the voice of his word; so the wicked are those that hearken to the voice of sin. If sin but make a motion, it is a match presently. If ambition bid Absalom rise up against his father, then he will trouble the whole kingdom, it will hurry him to run his father down; if envy bid Cain kill his brother Abel, he will not stick at it; if covetousness bid Achan take a bribe of that which was devoted to the flames, and must be offered as a burnt-offering to God, yet Achan obeys his covetousness; if adultery bids Joseph’s mistress tempt her servant, presently she yields. So when a sinner yields, and is led away like a fool to the correction of the stocks. Meadow ground may in a great flood be drowned, but marsh ground is overflown by every return of the tide; so they cannot cease to sin, every temptation carries them away. When men are impatient of reproof, when they have a privy sore they cannot endure should be touched, if a man speak to them anything to help them on to interpret their condition. Herod must not have his Herodias touched, though he heard John the Baptist gladly in many things. Or when men set up a toleration and court of faculties in their hearts, and they will have a dispensation: if God will be contented with obedience in some things, they will dispense with other things, pardon for some sins, but not break them off; have an indulgence that they may continue in them, or in vain practices. This shows the reign of sin.
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