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“ Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again unto fear ;
but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Romans viii. 15.
1. St. Paul here speaks to those who are the children of God by faith. “ Ye,” saith he, who are indeed his children, have drank into his Spirit; “ ye have not received the spirit of bondage again unto fear;” “ but, because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.” “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
2. The spirit of bondage and fear is widely distant from this loving Spirit of adoption : Those who are influenced only by slavish fear, cannot be termed “ the sons of God;" yet some of them may be styled his servants, and are “not far from the kingdom of heaven.”
3. But it is to be feared, the bulk of mankind, yea, of what is called the Christian world, have not attained even this ; but are still afar off,“ neither is God in all their thoughts.” A few names may be found of those who love God; a few more there are that fear him ; but the greater part have neither the fear of God before their eyes, nor the love of God in their hearts.
4. Perhaps most of you, who, by the mercy of God, now partake of a better spirit, may remember the time when ye were as they, when ye were under the same condemnation. But at first ye knew it not, though ye were wallowing daily in your sins and in your blood; till, in due time, ye “received the spirit of fear;” (ye received, for this also is the gift of God;) and afterwards, fear vanished away, and the Spirit of love filled spirit of bondage and fear, is sometimes said to be " under the law:” (Although that expression more frequently signifies one who is under the Jewish dispensation, or who thinks himself obliged to observe all the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law :) But one who has exchanged the spirit of fear for the Spirit of love, is properly said to be “under grace."
5. One who is in the first state of mind, without fear or love, is in Scripture termed a “natural man:” One who is under the
Now, because it highly imports us to know what spirit we are of, I shall endeavour to point out distinctly, First, the state of a “ natural man :" Secondly, that of one who is “ under the law :" And, Thirdly, of one who is “ under grace." I. 1. And, First, the state of a natural man.
This the Scripture represents as a state of sleep: The voice of God to him is, “Awake, thou that sleepest." For his soul is in a deep sleep : His spiritual senses are not awake: They discern neither spiritual good nor evil. The eyes of his understanding are closed; they are sealed together, and see not. Clouds and darkness continually rest upon them; for he lies in the valley of the shadow of death. Hence, having no inlets for the knowledge of spiritual things, all the avenues of his soul being shut up, he is in gross, stupid ignorance of whatever he is most concerned to know. He is utterly ignorant of God, knowing nothing concerning him as he ought to know. He is totally a stranger to the law of God, as to its true, inward, spiritual meaning. He has no conception of that evangelical holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord; nor of the happiness which they only find whose “life is hid with Christ in God."
2. And, for this very reason, because he is fast asleep, he is, in some sense, at rest. Because he is blind, he is also secure: He saith, “ Tush, there shall no harm happen unto me.” The darkness which covers him on every side, keeps him in a kind of peace; so far as peace can consist with the works of the devil, and with an earthly, devilish mind. He sees not that he stands on the edge of the pit, therefore he fears it not. He cannot tremble at the danger he does not know. He has not understanding enough to fear. Why is it that he is in no dread of God? Because he is totally ignorant of him: If not saying in his heart, “ There is no God;" or, that "he sitteth on the circle of the heavens, and humbleth” not “himself to behold the things which are done on earth ;" yet, satisfying himself as well, to all Epicurean intents and purposes, by saying, “God is merciful;" confounding and swallowing up all at once in that
unwieldy idea of mercy all his holiness and essential hatred of sin ; all his justice, wisdom, and truth. He is in no dread of the vengeance denounced against those who obey not the blessed law of God, because he understands it not. He imagines the main point is, to do thus, to be outwardly blameless ; and sees not that it extends to every temper, desire, thought, motion of the heart. Or he fancies that the obligation hereto is ceased; that Christ came to “ destroy the Law and the Prophets;" to save his people in, not from their sins; to bring them to heaven without holiness :-Notwithstanding his own words, “Not one jot or tittle of the Law shall pass away, till all things are fulfilled;" and, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord ! shall enter into the kindom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
3. He is secure, because he is utterly ignorant of himself. Hence he talks of “repenting by and by;" he does not indeed exactly know when, but some time or other before he dies; taking it for granted, that this is quite in his own power. For what should hinder his doing it, if he will ? If he does but once set a resolution, no fear but he will make it good!
4. But this ignorance never so strongly glares, as in those who are termed, men of learning. La natural man be one of these, he can talk at large of his rational faculties, of the freedom of his will, and the absolute necessity of such freedom, in order to constitute man a moral agent. He reads, and argues, and proves to a demonstration, that every man may do as he will; may dispose his own heart to evil or good, as it seems best in his own eyes. Thus the god of this world spreads a double veil of blindness over his heart, lest, by any means, "the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine” upon it.
5. From the same ignorance of himself and God, there may sometimes arise, in the natural man, a kind of joy, in congratulating himself upon his own wisdom and goodness : And what the world calls joy, he may often possess. He may have pleasure in various kinds ; either in gratifying the desires of the flesh, or the desire of the eye, or the pride of life; particularly if he has large possessions ; if he enjoy an affluent fortune ; then he may “clothe” himself “in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day." And so long as he thus doeth well unto himself, men will doubtless speak good of him. They will say, “ He is a happy man.” For, indeed, this is the sum of may he
worldly happiness; to dress, and visit, and talk, and eat, and drink, and rise up to play.
6. It is not surprising, if one in such circumstances as these, dosed with the opiates of Aattery and sin, should imagine, among his other waking dreams, that he walks in great liberty. How easily may he persuade himself, that he is at liberty from all vulgar errors, and from the prejudice of education ; judging exactly right, and keeping clear of all extremes. “I am free,”
say, “from all the enthusiasm of weak and narrow souls; from superstition, the disease of fools and cowards, always righteous over much ; and from bigotry, continually incident to those who have not a free and generous way of thinking.” And too sure it is, that he is altogether free from the “wisdom which cometh from above,” from holiness, from the religion of the heart, from the whole mind which was in Christ.
7. For all this time he is the servant of sin. He commits sin, more or less, day by day. Yet he is not troubled: He “is in no bondage," as some speak; he feels no condemnation. He contents himself (even though he should profess to believe that the Christian Revelation is of God) with, “Man is frail. We are all weak. Every man has his infirmity.”
Perhaps he quotes Scripture: “Why, does not Solomon say,—The righteous man falls into sin seven times a day !-And, doubtless, they are all hypocrites or enthusiasts who pretend to be better than their neighbours.” If, at any time, a serious thought fix upon him, he stifles it as soon as possible, with, “Why should I fear, , since God is merciful, and-Christ died for sinners ?” Thus, he remains a willing servant of sin, content with the bondage of corruption; inwardly and outwardly unholy, and satisfied therewith; not only not conquering sin, but not striving to conquer, particularly that sin which doth so easily beset him.
8. Such is the state of every natural man ; whether he be a gross, scandalous transgressor, or a more reputable and decent sinner, having the form, though not the power of godliness. But how can such an one be convinced of sin? How is he brought to repent? To be under the law ? To receive the spirit of bondage unto fear? This is the point which is next to be considered.
II. 1. By some awful providence, or by his word applied with the demonstration of his Spirit, God touches the heart of him that lay asleep in darkness and in the shadow of death.
He is terribly shaken out of his sleep, and awakes into a consciousness of his danger. Perhaps in a moment, perhaps by degrees, the eyes of his understanding are opened, and now first (the veil being in part removed) discern the real state he is in. Horrid light breaks in upon his soul ; such light, as may be conceived to gleam from the bottomless pit, from the lowest deep, from a lake of fire burning with brimstone. He at last sees the loving, the merciful God is also “a consuming fire;" that he is a just God and a terrible, rendering to every man according to his works, entering into judgment with the ungodly for every idle word, yea, and for the imaginations of the heart. He now clearly perceives, that the great and holy God is “of purer eyes than to behold iniquity;” that he is an avenger of every one who rebelleth against him, and repayeth the wicked to his face; and that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
2. The inward, spiritual meaning of the law of God now begins to glare upon him. He perceives the commandment is exceeding broad," and there is nothing hid from the light thereof." He is convinced, that every part of it relates, not barely to outward sin or obedience, but to what passes in the secret recesses of the soul, which no eye but God's can penetrate. If he now hears, “ Thou shalt not kill,” God speaks in thunder, “He that hateth his brother is a murderer;" he that saith unto his brother, Thou fool, is obnoxious to hell-fire.” If the law say, “ Thou shalt not commit adultery,” the voice of the Lord sounds in his ears, “He that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” And thus, in every point, he feels the word of God “quick and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.” It “pierces even to the dividing asunder of his soul and spirit, his joints and marrow.” And so much the more, because he is conscious to himself of having neglected so great salvation; of having “trodden under foot the Son of God," who would have saved him from his sins, and “counted the blood of the covenant an unholy," a common, unsanctifying thing.
3. And as he knows, “all things are naked and open unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do," so he sees himself naked, stripped of all the fig-leaves which he had sewed together, of all his poor pretences to religion or virtue, and his wretched excuses for sinning against God. He now sees himself like the