Fourth Inquiry. Now follows the fourth query. Whence is it that sincerity thus covers the saint’s uncomelinesses.
Reason First. It flows from the grace of the gospel-covenant, that relaxeth the rigour of the law, which called for complete obedience; by resolving all that into this of sincerity and truth of heart. Thus God, when entering into covenant with Abraham, expresseth himself, ‘I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect’ or sincere, Gen. 17:1. As if God had said to him, ‘Abraham, see here what I expect at thy hands,’ and what thou mayest expect at mine. I look that thou shouldst ‘set me before thee,’ whom in thy whole course and walking thou wilt sincerely endeavour to please and approve thyself to, and at my hands thou mayest promise thyself what an ‘Almighty God can do,’ both in protecting thee in thy obedience, and pardoning of thee, where thou fallest short of perfect obedience.’ Walk but in the truth of thy heart before me, and in Christ I will accept thee and thy sincere endeavour, as kindly as I would have done Adam, if he had kept his place in innocency, and never sinned. Indeed, a sincere heart by virtue of this covenant might—I mean the covenant would bear him out and defend him in it, relying on Christ —converse with God, and walk before him with as much freedom, and more familiarity, by reason of a nearer relation it hath, than ever Adam did, when god and he were best friends. ‘If our heart condemn us not, then,’ saith the apostle, ‘we have confidence towards God,’ I John 3:21; —we have a boldness of face. And it is not the presence of sin in us, as the covenant now stands, that conscience can, or, if rightly informed concerning the tenure of it, will condemn us for. Paul’s conscience cleared him, yea, afforded matter of rejoicing, and holy glorying, at the same time he found sin stirring in him. No, conscience is set by God to judge for him in the private court of our own bosoms, and it is bound up by a law, what sentence to give for, or against, and that is the same, by which Christ himself will acquit or condemn the world at the last day. Now when we go upon the trial for our lives, before Christ’s bar, the great inquest will be, whether we have been sincere or not; and as Christ will not then condemn the sincere soul, though a thousand sins could be objected against it, so neither can our hearts condemn us.
But here it may be asked, how comes God so favourable in the covenant of the gospel, to accept an obedience so imperfect at his saints’ hands, who was so strict with Adam in the first, that the least failing, though but once escaping him, was to be accounted unpardonable? The resolution of this question takes in these two particulars.
- In the covenant God made with mankind in Adam, there was no sponsor or surety to stand bound to God for man’s performance of his part in the covenant, which was perfect obedience, and therefore God could do no other but stand strictly with him; because he had none else from whom he might recover his glory, and thereby pay himself for the wrong man’s default might do him; but in the gospel-covenant there is a surety—Christ the righteous —who stands responsible to God for all the defaults and failings which occur in the Christian’s course. The Lord Jesus doth not only take upon him to discharge the vast sums of those sins, which he finds them charged with before conversion; but for all those dribbling debts, which afterward, through their infirmity, they contract. ‘If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins,’ I John 2:1, 2, so that God may without impeachment to his justice cross the saints’ debts, which he is paid for by their surety. It is mercy indeed to the saints, but justice to Christ, that he should. O happy conjunction where mercy and justice thus conspire and kiss each other!
- God did, and well might, require full and perfect obedience of man in the first covenant, because he was in a perfect state, of full power and ability to perform it, so that God looked to reap no more than he had planted. But in the gospel-covenant God doth not at first infuse into the believer full grace, but true grace; and accordingly he expects not full obedience, but sincere. He considers our frame, and every believer is, if I may so say, rated in God’s books as the stock of grace is, which God gives to set up withal at first.
Reason Second. The second reason may be taken from the great love he bears, and liking he takes, to this disposition of heart; upon which follows this act of grace, to cover their failings where he spies it. It is the nature of love to cover infirmities, even to a multitude. Esther transgressed the law, by coming into Ahasuerus’ presence before she was sent for; but love soon erected a pardon-office in the king’s breast, to forgive her that fault; and truly she did not find so much favour in the eyes of that great monarch, as the sincere soul doth in the eyes of the great God. He did not more delight in Esther’s beauty, than God doth in this; ‘such as are upright in their way are his delight,’ Prov. 11:20. His soul closeth with that man as one that suits with the disposition of his own holy nature—one whose heart is right with his heart. And so, with infinite content to see a ray of his own excellency sparkle in his creature, he delights in him, and takes him by the hand, to lift him up into the bosom of his love, a better chariot, I trow, than that which Jehu preferred Jehonadab to, for his faithfulness to him. You seldom find any spoken of as upright in the Scripture, that are passed over with a plain naked inscription of their uprightness; but some circumstance there is, which, like the costly work and curious engraving about some tombs, tell the passenger, they are no ordinary men that lie there. God, speaking of Job’s uprightness, represents him as a nonesuch in his age. ‘None like him in the earth, a perfect man, and upright.’ Mention was before made of his vast estate, and in that also he was a nonesuch. But when God comes to glory over Satan, by telling what a servant he had to wait on him, he doth not count this worth the telling the devil of. He sayeth not, ‘Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none so rich?’ but, ‘none so upright,’ Job 1:8.
When God speaks to Caleb’s uprightness, see to what a height he exalts him. But my servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him, and hath followed me fully, him will I bring into the land, &c, Num. 14:24. As if God had said, Here is a man I do not count myself disparaged to own him for my servant and special favourite; he is one that carries more worth in him than the whole multitude of murmuring Israelites besides. He had ‘another spirit’—that is, for excellency and nobleness, far above the rest. And wherein did this appear? The next words resolve us, ‘He hath followed me fully.’ Now that which gained him this great honour from God’s own mouth, we shall find to be his sincerity, and especially in that business when he went to search the land of Canaan. Joshua 14:7, compare with ver. 9. He had great temptations to tell another tale. The Israelites were so sick of their enterprise, that he would be the welcomest messenger that brought the worst news, from which they might have some colour for their murmuring against Moses, who had brought them into such straits; and of twelve that were sent, there were ten that suited their answer to this discontented humour of the people; so that by making a contrary report to theirs, he did not only come under suspicion of a liar, but hazard his life among an enraged people. Yet such was the courage of this holy man, faithfulness to his trust, and trust in his God, that he saith himself, Joshua 14:7, he ‘brought him’—that is, Moses, who had sent him—‘word again, as it was in his heart,’ that is, he did not for fear or favour accommodate himself, but what in his conscience he thought true, that he spake; and this, because it was an eminent proof of his sincerity, is called by Moses, ver. 9, following God fully;’ for which the Lord erects such a pillar of remembrance over his head, that shall stand as long as Scripture itself.
To gove but one instance more, and that is of Nathaniel, at first sight of whom, Christ cannot forbear, but lets all about him know how highly he was in his favour. ‘Behold,’ saith he of him, ‘an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile,’ John 1:47. Christ’s heart, like the babe in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary saluted her—seemed thus to leap at the coming of Nathaniel, yea, comes forth in this expression, not to flatter him into an over-weening conceit of himself—Christ knew what an humble soul he spake to—but to bear witness to his own grace in him, especially this of sincerity—that knowing what a high price and value heaven sets upon the head of this grace, they might, like wise merchants, store themselves with it more abundantly. His simplicity of heart made him ‘an Israelite indeed.’ Many goodly shows and pompous outsides were to be seen among the Pharisees, but they were a company of base projectors and designers. Even when some of them came to Christ, extolling him for his sincerity, ‘Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth,’ Matt. 22:16, then did they play the hypocrites, and had a plot to decoy him by his glozing speech into danger; as you may perceive, ver. 15—they came that ‘they might entangle him.’ But good Nathaniel had no plot in his head in his coming, but to find the Messias he looked for, and eternal life by him, and therefore, though he was for the present wrapped up in that common error of the times, that no prophet could come out of Galilee, John 7:52—much less so a great one as the Messias, out of such an obscure place in Galilee as Nazareth—yet Christ, seeing the honesty and uprightness of his heart, doth not suffer his ignorance and error to prejudice him in his thoughts of him.