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OF SIN IN GENERAL.
1 JOHN III. 4.—Sin is the transgression of the law.
In these words we have an answer to that question, 'What is sin ?' It is a transgression of the law : for where no law is, there is no transgression,' Rom. iv. 15. But because the word transgression seems to import something positive and actual, therefore it is added in the Catechism, it is a 'want of conformity unto the law,' which is a more general definition: and this meaning the word in the original most properly bears. Hence both a want of conformity unto the law of God, and a transgression of it, are taken into the description; and in effect they are both one thing.
In the further illustration of this subject, it will be proper to shew,
I. What that law is whereof sin is the trangression.
I. I am to shew what is that law whereof sin is the transgression. It is the law of God, even any law of his whereby he lays any duty upon any of the children of men, whether it be the natural law which is written even in the hearts of all men, Rom. ii. 15. or the revealed law and will of God, written in the Bible, whether it be the law strictly so called, or the gospel, whose great command is to believe in Christ; the transgression of which command is the great sin of the hearers of the gospel. In a word, the law of which sin is the transgression, is any law or command of God which he obliges us to obey. More particularly,
1. There is a law engraven upon the hearts of men by nature, which was in force long before the promulgation of the law from Mount Sinai. This is the light of reason, and the dictates of natural conscience concerning those moral principles of good and evil, which have an essential equity in them, and shew man his duty to God, to his neighbour, and to himself. There is a law in all men by nature, which is a rule of good and evil. They have notions of right and wrong in their consciences; which is evident by those laws which are common in all nations for the preservation of human society, the encouraging of virtue, and discouraging of vice. These laws are to be found among men who have not the benefit of divine revelation for regulating their lives. Now, what standard else can they have for these but common reason, and the light of nature ? Every son and daughter of Adam brings with them into the world a law in their breast; and when reason clears up itself from the clouds of sense, they can distinguish between good and evil, between things which ought to be done, and things which they should avoid. Every man finds a law in his heart that checks and rebukes when he offends, and cherishes and encourages him when he does good. None are without a legal indictment and a legal execution within themselves, Rom. ii. 14, 15.
2. There is another law which was given to the Jewish nation by the ministry of Moses. This is spoken of by Christ, John xvii. 19. 'Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keepeth tho law? By this we are to understand the whole system of divine precepts concerning ceremonial rites, judicial processes, and moral duties. Accordingly there was a threefold law given by Moses.
(1.) The ceremonial law, which was a certain system of divine positive precepts, with relation to the external worship of God. It was wholly taken up in enjoining those observances of sacrifices and offerings, and various methods of purifications and cleansings which were typical of Christ, and of that sacrifice of his which alone was able to take away sin.
(2.) The judicial law consisted of those institutions which God prescribed the Jews for their civil government. For, whereas, in other commonwealths, the chief magistrates give laws unto the people ; in this the laws for their religion and for their civil government were both divine, and both immediately from God. So that the judicial law was given them to be the standing law of their nation, according to which all actions and suits between party and party were to be tried and determined; as in all other nations there are particular laws and statutes for the decision of controversies that may arise
among men. 3. There is the moral law which is a system or body of those precepts which carry an universal and natural equity in them, being so conformable to the light of reason, and tho dictates of every man's conscience, that as soon as ever they are declared and understood, we must needs subscribe to the justice and righteousness of them. We have the sum of this law in the ten commandments. This law continues in its full force and power, obliging the conscience as a standing rule for our obedience. Our Lord tells us, Matt. v. 17. that he came not to destroy the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them.' The ceremonial law was abolished by the death of Christ, and the judicial law, so far as it concerned the nation of the Jews as a commonwealth and body politic, particularly touching their not marrying out of their own tribes, their not alienating the inheri
tance of their fathers, the raising up of seed to their deceased bro-
It consists in a want of conformity to the law of God, or a disconformity thereto. The law of God is the rule ; whatsoever is over this rule, is sin. The law of God is set as a mark to us; and so the word sin, in the first language properly signifies a not hitting the mark; and transgression is a swerving from the right line, or a going off the way. So it is called a going aside,' Psal. xiv. 3. Now, nothing is conformable to the law which is not perfectly so; for if it be in the least disagreeable thereto, it is not conformable to it, more than that which wants half an inch of an ell is truly an ell of measure ; and therefore any want of that conformity is sin. The law of God requires universal conformity to it. Now the law or command of God requires a twofold conformity.
1. A conformity of the heart to it. It reaches the inward man, seeing God is a spirit, and that omniscient One who knows the heart; and the whole heart must be subject to him. Therefore our Saviour says, Mark xii. 30. ^ 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.'
2. A conformity of the life both in words and deeds. Hence says David, Psal. xxiv. 3, 4. 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord ? and who shall stand in his holy place ? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lift up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.' And forasmuch as the law requires some things, and forbids other things both in heart and life, the want of conformity to it in these respects, either in heart or life, is sin. Hence we may infer,
1. Sin is no positive being, but a want of due perfection, a defect, an imperfection in the creature ; and therefore it is, (1.) Not from God, but from the creature itself. (2.) It is not a thing to glory in, more than the want of all things. (3.) It is a thing we have reason to be humbled for, and have great need to have removed. (4.) It is
not a thing to be desired, but fled from and abhorred, as the abominable thing which God hateth.
2. Original sin is truly and properly sin. Look to yourselves as you came into the world, and ye must smite on your breast, be
have sucked the breasts, and say, 'God be merciful to me a sinner. For we come into it with Adam's sin imputed, Rom. v. 12. stript of original righteousness, and the whole nature corrupted. This is the sin of our nature, being a want of conformity in our souls to the law of God, which requires all moral perfection of us, Matth. v. ult. ' Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Instead of which we have a bent of soul quite contrary to the law, Rom. viii. 7. The carnal mind is enmity against God : for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.'
3. The first motions of sin, and the risings of that natural corruption in us, before it be completed with the consent of the will to the evil motion, are truly and properly sin. The apostle calls this lust, and distinguishes it from sin, i. e. the sin of our nature, and from the consent to it and execution of it, which he calls 'obeying these lusts,' Rom. vi. 12. and tells us that it is condemned by the law, Rom. vii. 7. Therefore a thing may be our sin, though we know it not to be so, 1 Tim. i. 13. and though it be not our will, yea though against our will, Rom. vii. 16. For it is neither our knowledge, or opinion, nor our will, but the law of God, that is the rule.
4. All consent of the heart to and delight in motions towards things forbidden by the law of God are sins, though these never break forth into action, but die where they were born in the inmost corners of our hearts, Matth. v. 28. · Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.' Speculative filthiness is a disconformity to the law. There is heart murder as well as actual murder, ver. 22.
5. All omissions of the internal duties we owe to God and our neighbours are sins, as want of love to God or our neighbours. Want of due fear of God, trust and hope in him, &c. are internal sins of omission.
6. Hence a man sins by undue silence and undue speaking, when the cause of God and truth require it; seeing the law bids us speak in some cases, but never speak what is not good.
7. Hence also a man's sins, when he omits outward duties that are incumbent on him to perform, as well as when he commits sin of whatever kind in his life.
8. Lastly, The least failure in any duty is sin; and whatever comes not up in perfection to the law is sinful. And therefore we
sin in every thing we do, and our best duties deserve damnation, and cannot be accepted according to the law. Wherefore the duties of wicked men are absolutely rejected, seeing they are under the law; and the duties of the godly are no otherwise accepted, but as washed in the blood of Christ, which takes away the sin cleaving to them.
Further, nothing can be a sin but what is a transgressing of the law of God, who only is Lord over the conscience. Therefore, if there be no law of God in the case, there is no transgression affecting the conscience. But it must be considered, that the law of God commands some things expressly, and others things by good consequence. No law of God commands a servant expressly to do such and such a particular piece of work that is lawful, which he is bidden do by his master; but the law of God says, 'Servants, obey your masters;' and therefore it is sin if he do not that work. The case is the same as to men's laws. Therefore the apostle says, Rom. xiii. 5. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.' Now, men's laws are either contrary to God's laws, or agreeable and subservient thereto, as being for the glory of God, or the good of the nation in general. As to the first of these, ye cannot obey without sin, as if the Queen and Parliament should command you to receive human ceremonies in the worship of God. As to other things that are good and just, we are obliged to obey, as is clear from Rom. xiii.; and therefore the conscience is not altogether unconcerned in the laws of men. And therefore, if ye would be tender Christians, before ye go against the laws of the land, consider well whether their commands be unlawful, or whether they be such as are good and just; for doubtless magistrates have a power to make laws for the good of the land in general; and what they so make we are obliged to respect, otherwise we contemn the ordinance of God, and regard not the good of our neighbour, and thereby sin against God; as is acknowledged in the case of those that now export grain, to the general distress of the country. And I apprehend, that if we would lay the case home to ourselves, we would have less liberty than we have in some things that are not scrupled at.
III. I come now to shew wherein the evil of sin lies. It lies,
1. And principally, in the wrong done to God, and its contrariety, (1.) To his nature, which is altogether holy. Hence the Psalmist says, Psal. li. 4. 'Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight.' David had exceedingly wronged Uriah in defiling his wife, and procuring the death of himself; yet he considers his great sin in that matter as chiefly against God, and