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IMPROVEMENT.

He says,

I From the subject of this section, we may be certain that they are not real Christians who say or think they are arrived to such a perfect state as to live without sin. A Christian may, through the prejudices of education, ignorance, or otherwise, think that some Christians may, and actually do, attain to sinless perfection in this life; but he can never think himself to be without sin. His acquaintance with the law of God, in the spirituality and extent of it, and with his own heart, is such, that by keeping these in view, and comparing them with each other, his own sinfulness stares him in the face; and he condemns himself before God as very far from what he ought to be, and exceeding guilty and vile. And the higher he rises in holy exercises, and the more circumspect and watchful he is, the greater light and discerning he has to see the defects and corruptions of his own heart; and the more painful is the view of his own character, and he is disposed to exclaim with the apostle Paul, “ O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” (Rom. vii. 24.) The apostle John decides this point in most express terms.

“ If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John i. 8.) He does not mean, * if we say we never did sin,” because this is contrary to his express words, which are in the present time, if we say we have no sin now, at this present time. According to this, no man can with truth say, at any time of his life,

« I have no sin, or I am without sin, and perfectly holy." Therefore, no

, real Christian will say it, or can think this of himself; none but those who are deceived about themselves to such a degree as is inconsistent with their being the children of light and of the day, can say, or even think, this of themselves. This apostle, in the next verse but one, speaks of the time past, and says, “ If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." This is a different proposition from the foregoing; it respects what they had been and done. If they had no sin now, and this could be said with truth, they could not say they had never sinned, without contradicting the whole gospel, which declares all men to be sinners, and so making God the Savior a liar. But the other proposition respects what they were at that time, or should be in any future time, while in this world; so that none who is not deceived, and has embraced the truth, can ever say or think, while in this life, that he now has no sin. There have been, and now are, those who say they have no sin. By this they declare they

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are deceived and strangers to real Christianity, and give greater evidence that they are not true Christians than they could by only saying, in express words, that they are not; persons may really think, and may say, that they are not Christians, when they are really such.

II. From this subject we learn, that persons have no reason to conclude they are no Christians, merely because they see much sin in themselves. This sight of sin often arises from their having that discerning which none but true Christians have, who, by reason of this discerning, see more sin in themselves than others do, and are more affected with it. And their complaints of themselves, of the amazing corruption and wickedness of their hearts, which they now see more clearly than ever before, and which they mention as an evidence that they have no grace, are often, in the view of the judicious Christian to whom they are made, an evidence that they are real Christians.

Great degrees of sin are consistent with some degree of true holiness. Therefore, if any thing can be found that is of the nature of holiness, a sight of great sinfulness is not an evidence against a person that he is not a Christian, but the contrary. They who have made the greatest proficiency in holiness see most of their own sinfulness.

III. This subject teaches us, not to be forward to censure others as no Christians because of great imperfections, and many things which are unbecoming and disagreeable; for the best of Christians are very imperfect and sinful in this state, and, in many things, all offend. There too often appears in persons a censorious spirit towards their fellow-Christians, which is a greater evidence of the want of real religion than those things for which they censure others as no Christians.

IV. Let none improve this doctrine as an encouragement to sloth and sin, and a discouragement to watchfulness against sin, and exertions and strivings after greater degrees of holiness. They who are disposed to make this improvement of the imperfections and sinfulness of all Christians, and indulge themselves in it, have no reason to think themselves to be Christians; for this is directly contrary to the spirit of a Christian. If it be rightly improved, it will be a motive to press forward, to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

SECTION IX.

Death. A separate State. The general Resurrection and Judge

ment. The eternal State of Happiness or Misery.

DEATH.

I. When man had sinned, and God had opened to him a new constitution for the redemption of some of the human race, by a Savior, by saying to the serpent, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” (Gen. iii. 15;) he said to Adam, and in him to all mankind, that under this new constitution, and from this new state of probation, he should pass into another state and go into the invisible world, by a separation between soul and body; and his body should turn to dust, from whence it was taken. * Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." This sentence must refer to his body only; for this only was dust, and taken out of the ground. His spirit or soul was immaterial, and not dust, or taken out of the ground, but a distinct existence from the body, by which he bore the image of God. “ And God said, Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” (Gen. i. 26; ii. 7.) Therefore, Solomon describes what is contained in this sentence in the following words: “ Then shall the dust return to the earth, as it was; and the spirit shall return to God who

(Ec. xii. 7.) The death of the body does not imply the death of the soul, but the latter exists when the former is turned to dust. This is declared by our Savior. " Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” (Matt. x. 28.)

This separation between soul and body, by which the latter is dissolved and turned to dust, was not included in the threatening, “ In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die;" for had there been no redemption, mankind must have been miserable in soul and body forever; which death, all they who are not redeemed will suffer, when the work of redemption is finished, which is called the second death, with reference to the body's turning to dust, which is called death, and is the first death. Man is, indeed, considered as a fallen creature, a sinner, when he is doomed to this first death, and also as in a new state of probation; and it is wisely ordered as subserving VOL. II.

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the design of redemption. It is proper and important that the future state should be invisible to sense, which it would not be if all men passed into it with their bodies, or without dying. But when the body dies, and turns to dust, all that is visible and discerned by our senses is left behind, and the invisible part of man departs into another state insensibly; and thus the future state is kept invisible, as the object of faith, not of sight. And this tends more sensibly to keep in view the fallen, sinful state of man, while all are doomed to death, which could not take place had man been innocent; and it tends to humble man in his own eyes, since his body is soon to turn to dust, and to make him feel his wretchedness, if he have no security of existence and happiness in a future state, and to excite an attention to Christ and the gospel, which brings life and immortality to light, and a future resurrection of the body, formed every way perfect, beautiful, and glorious, never to die again.

The only time of probation allotted to man is that of this life, to which the death of the body puts an end; so that every one will be happy or miserable in the future, endless state, according to his character, which is formed before the soul is separated from the body. This is plain and certain from the Scripture, where there is not a word, or the least hint, of another state of trial, after the death of the body, but much is there said to the contrary of this. This life is represented as the sowing, or seed time, and that men shall reap in a future state according to what they do in this fife. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the spirit, shall of the spirit reap life everlasting.” (Gal. vi. 7, 8.) This life is represented as the only time to lay up a treasure in heaven, — to make to ourselves friends, so as to be received into everlasting habitations, when we fail here, when this life ends ; – to make our peace with God, which Christ represents and urges, by agreeing with our adversary while we are in the way with him, otherwise we shall be cast into prison, from whence there is no deliverance. And he represents Lazarus and the rich man as fixed, — the former in a state of happiness, and the latter in a state of misery, - immediately upon their going out of this world. And it is said, “ It is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Heb. ix. 27.) And if nothing were said, relating to this point, but the following words, it is fixed in them, beyond a doubt: “ We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. v. 10.) If, at the final judgment, when the endless state of men will be fixed, they shall be judged according to what they have done in the body, then this life is the only time of probation, and in the body they fix their character and state for eternity.

The time of man's death, and the way and means by which the soul shall be separated from the body, are all hidden from man. He is exposed to death as soon as he begins to exist in the body, and knows not how soon it may come; and no circumstances, nor any thing he can do, or that others can do for him, can secure him from death a moment.

This is wisely ordered so, and answers many good ends, which it is needless particularly to mention here.

Death is not a calamity, but a great benefit, to the redeemed. It has no sting for them, but comes to them as a friend, by which they are delivered from all moral and natural evil, and become perfectly holy, and enter upon a life unspeakably better than to live here in the body. Therefore, the apostle Paul bad a desire to depart, — to die, and be with Christ, which was far better; and he considered the death of his body as his great gain. (Phil. i. 21, 28.) “ Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints ;” (Ps. cxvi. 15;) — which denotes that it is an important and desirable change, by which he is glorified, and their good is promoted. Christ has taken away the sting of death to them, and gives them the victory over it, which he will complete at the general resurrection. In the prospect of this, Christians may now say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Cor. xv. 55–57.)

Death is justly terrible, and a dreadful evil, to those who are in their sins. It deprives them of all good; it puts an end to their probation state, and to all hope, and fixes them in a state of sin, despair, and endless misery. This is necessarily implied in the words just cited: “ The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” Death could have no sting, by sin or the law, more than any other change or event in life, if it did not fix the curse of the law upon the sinner, when he dies, and put an end to his probation and hope. The sting of death is the evil which sin deserves, and which the law denounces, which is the second death. The death of the body fixes this sting in the sinner's heart, which is endless destruction.

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