Third Inquiry. How doth sincerity cover the saint’s sinful uncomeliness? I shall answer to this —First. Negatively, and show how it doth not. Second. Affirmatively—how it doth.
First. Negatively—how sincerity doth not cover them, and that in several particulars.
- Sincerity doth not so cover the saint’s failings, as to take away their sinful nature. Wandering thoughts are sin in a saint, as well as in another. A weed will be a weed wherever it grows, though in a garden among choicest flowers. They mistake then, who, because the saint’s sins are covered, deny them to be sins.
- It doth not cover them so, as to give us the least ground to think that God doth allow the Christian to commit the least sin more than others. Indeed, it is inconsistent with God’s holiness to give, and with a saint’s sincerity to pretend such a dispensation to be given them. A father may, out of his love and indulgence and love to his child, pass by a failing in his waiting on him, as if he spills the wine, or breaks the glass he is bringing to him, but sure he will not allow him to throw it down carelessly or willingly. Though a man may be easily entreated to forgive his friend, that wounded him unawares, when he meant him no hurt, yet he will not beforehand give him leave to do it.
- It doth not cover them so, as that God should not see them, which is not only derogatory to his omniscience, but to his mercy also, for he cannot pardon what he doth not first see to be sin. God doth not only see the sins of his children, but their failings are more distasteful to him than others’, because the persons in which they are found are so dear, and stand so near to him. A dunghill in a prince’s chamber would be more offensive to him, than one far off from his court. The Christian’s bosom is God’s court, throne, temple; there he hath taken up his rest forever. Sin there must needs be very unsavoury to his nostrils.
- It doth not so cover them, as that the saints need not confess them—be humbled under them, or sue out a pardon for them. A penny is as due debt as a pound, and therefore to be acknowledged. Indeed, that which is a sin of infirmity in the committing, becomes a sin of presumption by hiding of it, and hardening in it. Job held fast his integrity throughout his sad conflict, yet those failings which escaped him in the paroxysm of his afflictions brought him upon his knees: ‘I abhor myself,’ saith he, ‘and repent in dust and ashes,’ Job 42:6.
- It doth not so cover them, as if our sincerity did the least merit and deserve that God should for it cover our other failings and infirmities. Were there such a thing as obedience absolutely complete, it could not merit pardon for past sins; much less can an imperfect obedience, as sincerity is in a strict sense, deserve it for present failings. Obedience legally perfect is no more than, as creatures, we owe to the law of God; and how could that pay the debt of sin, which of itself was due debt, before any sin was committed? Much less can evangelical obedience —which is sincerity—do it; that falls short by far of that obedience we do owe. If he that owes twenty pounds merits nothing when he pays the whole sum, then surely he doth not, that of the twenty pounds he owes pays but twenty pence. Indeed, creditors may take what they please, and if they will say half satisfies them, it is discharge enough to the debtor. But where did ever God say he would thus compound with his creature? God stands as strictly upon it in the gospel-covenant to have the whole debt paid, as he did in the first of works. There was required a full righteousness in keeping, or a full curse for breaking of the law. So there is in the evangelical; only here the wards of the lock are changed. God required this at the creature’s hand in the first covenant to be personally performed or endured; but in the gospel-covenant he is content to take both at the hands of Christ our surety, and impute these to the sincere soul that unfeignedly believes on him, and gives up himself to him.
Second. Positively—how sincerity doth cover the saint’s uncomelinesses.
- Sincerity is that property to which pardoning mercy is annexed. True, indeed, it is Christ that covers all our sins and failings, but it is only the sincere soul over which he will cast his skirt. ‘Blessed is he…whose sin is covered; blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,’ Ps. 32:2. None will doubt this; but which is the man? the next words tell us his name—‘and in whose spirit there is no guile.’ Christ’s righteousness is the garment that covers the nakedness and shame of our unrighteousness, faith the grace that puts this garment on. But what faith? none but the ‘faith unfeigned,’ as Paul calls it, II Tim. 1:5. ‘Here is water,’ saith the eunuch, ‘what doth hinder me to be baptized?’ Acts 8:36. Now mark Philip’s answer, ver. 37, ‘If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest;’ as if he had said, Nothing but a hypocritical heart can hinder thee. It is the false heart only that finds the door of mercy shut. He that promiseth to cover the sincere soul’s failings, threatens to uncover the hypocrite’s impiety. ‘He that perverteth his ways shall be known,’ that is, to his shame, Prov. 10:9.
- Where sincerity is, God approves of that soul, as a holy righteous person, notwithstanding that mixture of sin which is found in him. As God doth not like the saint’s sin, for his sincerity, so he doth not unsaint him for that. God will set his hand to Lot’s testimonial that he is a righteous man. Though many sins are recorded in the Scripture which he fell into —and foul ones too—yet Job is regarded perfect, because the frame of his heart was sincere, the tenure of his life holy; and he was rather surprised by his sins as temptations, than they entertained by him upon choice. Though sincerity doth not blind God’s eye that he should no see the saint’s sin, yet it makes him see it with a pitiful eye, and not a wrathful; as a husband knowing his wife faithful to him in the main, pities her in other weaknesses, and for all them accounts her a good wife. ‘In all this,’ saith God, ‘Job sinned not.’ And at the very close of his combat, God brings him out of the field with his honourable testimony to his friends that had taken so much pains to bring his godliness in question; that his servant Job had ‘spoken right of him.’ Truly God said more of Job than he durst of himself. He freely confesseth his unadvised froward speeches, and cries out, ‘I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’ God saw Job’s sins attended with sincerity, and therefore judged him perfect and righteous. Job saw his sincerity dashed with many sad failings, and this made him, in the close of all, rather confess his sins with shame, than glory in his grace.
God’s mercy is larger to his children, than their charity is many times to themselves and their brethren. (1.) To themselves. Do you think the prodigal —the emblem of a convert—durst have asked the robe, or desired his father to at such cost for his entertainment, as his father freely bestowed on him? No sure, a room in the kitchen, we see, was as high as he durst ask. To be among the meanest servants of the house—poor soul! he could not conceive he should have such a meeting with his father at first sight. A robe! he might rather look for a rope, at least a rod. A feast at his father’s table! O, unlooked for welcome! I doubt not but if any had met him on his way, and told him that his father was resolved as soon as he came home, not to let him see his face, but presently pack him to bridewell, there to whipped and fed with bread and water for many months, and then perhaps he would at last look on him and take him home—I doubt not but, in his starving condition, this would have been good news to him.