He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
~ Micah 7:19, Hebrews 8:10, Psalm 130:7-8
Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
~ Galatians 4:21, Romans 3:19-20, Galatians 3:23, Galatians 4:4-5, John 1:17, Galatians 5:18, Romans 11:6, Romans 4:16, Romans 5:20-21, Romans 6:15, Romans 8:2, John 8:36, Titus 2:14, 2 Corinthians 3:6
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.
~ Romans 6:12
A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace, by John Owen (1616-1683). Excerpts from Chapters Four and Five (On Hardness of Heart and Grounds of the Assurance Given in the Text, respectively) from the text.
A Treatise Of the Dominion of Sin and Grace;
Wherein Sin’s Reign is Discovered, In Whom It Is, And In Whom It is Not; How the Law Supports It; How Grace Delivers From It, By Setting Up Its Dominion in the Heart.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. — Rom. vi. 14.
By the late pious and learned minister of the gospel,
John Owen, D.D.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. — Rom. vi. 14.
Chapter IV. On Hardness of Heart.
But there is a hardness of heart that is indeed but partial and comparative, whatever appearance it may make of that which is total and absolute; whence the inquiry ariseth whether it be an evidence of the dominion of sin or no.
There is a hardness of heart which is known and lamented by them in whom it is. Hereof the church complains, Isa. lxiii. 17, “O Lord, why hast thou hardened our heart from thy fear?” or, “suffered it so to be, not healing, not recovering our hardness.” And there are sundry things which concur in this kind of hardness of heart; as, —
1. Want of readiness to receive divine impressions from the word of God. When the heart is soft and tender, it is also humble and contrite, and ready to tremble at the word of God. So it is said of Josiah that “his heart was tender,” and “he humbled himself before the Lord,” when he heard his word, 2 Kings xxii. 18, 19. This may be wanting in some in a great measure, and they may be sensible of it. They may find in themselves a great unreadiness to comply with divine warnings, reproofs, calls. They are not affected with the word preached, but sometimes complain that they sit under it like stocks and stones. They have not an experience of its power, and are not cast into the mould of it. Hereon they apprehend that their hearts are hardened from the fear of God, as the church complains. There is, indeed, no better frame of heart to be attained in this life than that whereby it is to the word as the wax to the seal, fit and ready to receive impressions from it, — a frame that is tender to receive the communications of the word in all their variety, whether for reproof, instruction, or consolation; and the want hereof is a culpable hardness of heart.
2. There belongs unto it an [un]affectedness with the guilt of sin, as unto the sorrow and repentance that it doth require. There is none in whom there is any spark of saving grace but hath a gracious sorrow for sin, in some degree or other. But there is a proportion required between sin and sorrow. Great sins require great sorrows, as Peter, on his great sin, “wept bitterly;” and all especial aggravations of sin require an especial sense of them. This the soul finds not in itself. It bears the thoughts of sin and the rebukes of conscience without any great concussion or remorse; it can pass over the charge of sin without relenting, mourning, dissolving in sighs and tears; and it cannot but say sometimes thereon that its heart is like the adamant or the flint in the rock. This makes many fear that they are under the dominion of sin; and they fear it the more because that fear doth not affect and humble them as it ought. And it must be granted that all unaffectedness with sin, all want of humiliation and godly sorrow upon it, is from an undue hardness of heart; and they who are not affected with it have great reason to be jealous over themselves, even as unto their spiritual state and condition.
3. Of the same kind, in its measure, is unaffectedness with the sins of others among whom we live, or in whom we are concerned. To mourn for the sins of others is a duty highly approved of God, Ezek. ix. 4. It argues the effectual working of many graces, as zeal for the glory of God, compassion for the souls of men, love to the glory and interest of Christ in the world. The want hereof is from hardness of heart; and it is that which abounds among us. Some find not themselves at all concerned herein; some make pretences why they need not so be, or that it is not their duty, — what is it unto them how wicked the world is? it shall answer for its own sins. Nor are they moved when it comes nearer them. If their children come to losses, poverty, ruin, then they are affected indeed; but so long as they flourish in the world, be they apostates from profession, be they enemies to Christ, do they avowedly belong unto the world and walk in the ways of it, they are not much concerned, especially if they are not scandalously profligate. But this also is from hardness of heart, which will be bewailed where grace is vigilant and active.
4. Want of a due sense of indications of divine displeasure is another instance of this hardness of heart. God doth ofttimes give signs and tokens hereof, whether as unto the public state of the church in the world, or as unto our own persons, in afflictions and chastisements. In the seasons hereof he expects that our hearts should be soft and tender, ready to receive impressions of his anger, and pliable therein unto his mind and will. There are none whom at such a time he doth more abhor than those who are stout-hearted, little regarding him or the operation of his hands. This in some measure may be in believers, and they may be sensible of it, to their sorrow and humiliation.
These things, and many more of the like nature, proceed from hardness of heart, or the remainder of our hardness by nature, and are great promoters of the interest of sin in us. But where any persons are sensible of this frame, where they are humbled for it, where they mourn under, and cry out for its removal, it is so far from being an evidence of the dominion of sin over them in whom it is, that it is an eminent sign of the contrary, — namely, that the ruling power of sin is certainly broken and destroyed in the soul.
But there are other instances of hardness of heart, which have much more difficulty in them, and which are hardly reconcilable unto the rule of grace. I shall mention some of them:—
1. Security and senselessness under the guilt of great actual sins. I do not say this is, or can at any time be, absolute in any believer; but such it may be as whereon men may go on at their old pace of duties and profession, though without any peculiar humiliation, albeit they are under the provoking guilt of some known sin, with its aggravations. It will recur upon their minds, and conscience, unless it be seared, will treat with them about it; but they pass it over, as that which they had rather forget and wear out of their minds than bring things unto their proper issue by particular repentance. So it seems to have been with David after his sin with Bathsheba. I doubt not but that before the message of God to him by Nathan, he had unpleasing thoughts of what he had done; but there are not the least footsteps in the story or any of his prayers that he laid it seriously to heart and was humbled for it before. This was a great hardness of heart; and we know how difficult his recovery from it was. He was saved, but as through fire. And where it is so with any one that hath been overtaken with any great sin, as drunkenness or other folly, that he strives to wear it out, to pass it over, to forget it, or give himself countenance from any reasoning or consideration against the especial sense of it and humiliation for it, he can, during that state and frame, have no solid evidence that sin hath not the dominion in him. And let such sinners be warned who have so passed over former sins until they have utterly lost all sense of them, or are under such a frame at present, that they recall things to another account, and suffer no such sin to pass without a peculiar humiliation, or, whatever be the final issue of things with them, they can have no solid ground of spiritual peace in this world.
2. There is such a dangerous hardness of heart, where the guilt of one sin makes not the soul watchful against another of another sort. Wherever the heart is tender, upon a surprisal into sin, it will not only watch against the returns thereof or relapses into it, but will be made diligent, heedful, and careful against all other sins whatever. So is it with all that walk humbly under a sense of sin. But when men [are] in such a state [they] are careless, bold, and negligent, so as that if they repeat not the same sin, they are easily hurried into others. Thus was it with Asa. He was “wroth with the seer” that came unto him with a divine message, and smote him, “and put him in a prison house, for he was in a rage,” 2 Chron. xvi. 10. A man would think that when he was recovered out of this distemper, it might have made him humble and watchful against other sins; but it was not so, for it is added that he “oppressed some of the people at the same time.” And he rested not there, but “in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians,” verse 12. Unto persecution he added oppression, and unto that unbelief. Yet, notwithstanding all this, “Asa’s heart was perfect with the Lord all his days,” 1 Kings xv. 14; that is, he had a prevalent sincerity in him notwithstanding these miscarriages. But he was, doubtless, under the power of great hardness of heart. So is it with others in the like cases, when one sin makes them not careful and watchful against another; as when men have stained themselves with intemperance of life, they may fall into excess of passion with their families and relations, or into a neglect of duty, take any other crooked steps in their walk. This argues a great prevalency of sin in the soul, although, as we see in the example of Asa, it is not an infallible evidence of its dominion; yet of that nature it is wherewith divine peace and consolation are inconsistent.
3. When men fall into such unspiritual frames, such deadness and decays, as from which they are not recoverable by the ordinary means of grace, it is a certain evidence of hardness of heart and the prevalency of sin therein. It is so, whether this be the fault of churches or of particular persons. The preaching of the word is the especial divine ordinance for the healing and recovery of backsliders in heart or life. Where this will not effect it in any, but they will go on frowardly in the ways of their own hearts, unless God take some extraordinary course with them, they are on the brink of ruin, and live on sovereign grace alone.
Thus was it with David. After his great sin, there is no doubt but he attended unto all ordinances of divine worship, which are the ordinary means of the preservation and recovery of sinners from their backslidings. Howbeit they had not this effect upon him. He lived impenitently in his sin, until God was pleased to use extraordinary means, in the especial message of Nathan and the death of his child, for his awakening and recovery.
And thus God will deal sometimes with churches and persons. Where ordinary means for their recovery will not effect it, he will by sovereign grace, and it may be by a concurrence of extraordinary providences, heal, revive, and save them. So he promiseth to do, Isa. lvii. 16–19.
But where this is trusted unto, in the neglect of the ordinary means of healing, seeing there is no direct promise of it, but it is a case reserved unto absolute sovereignty, the end may be bitterness and sorrow.
And let them take heed who are under this frame; for although God may deliver them, yet it will be by “terrible things,” as Ps. lxv. 5, — such terrible things as wherein he will “take vengeance of their inventions,” Ps. xcix. 8, though he do forgive them. So David affirms of himself, that God in his dealing with him had broken all his bones, Ps. li. 8.
I fear this is the present case of many churches and professors at this day. It is evident that they are fallen under many spiritual decays; neither have the ordinary means of grace, repentance, and humiliation, though backed with various providential warnings, been efficacious to their recovery. It is greatly to be feared that God will use some severe dispensation in terrible things towards them for their awakening, or, which is more dreadful, withdraw his presence from them.
4. Of the same nature it is, and argues no small power of this evil, when men satisfy and please themselves in an unmortified, unfruitful profession; a severe symptom of the dominion of sin. And there are three things that manifest the consistency of such a profession with hardness of heart, or are fruits of it therein:—
(1.) A neglect of the principal duties of it. Such are mortification in themselves, and usefulness or fruitfulness towards others. A deficiency and neglect in these things are evident amongst many that profess religion. It doth not appear that in any thing they seriously endeavour the mortification of their lusts, their pride, their passion, their love of the world, their inordinate desires and sensual appetites. They either indulge unto them all, or at least they maintain not a constant conflict against them. And as unto usefulness in the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise of God by Jesus Christ, or those good works which are the evidence of a living faith, they are openly barren in them. Now, whereas these are the principal dictates of that religion which they do profess, their neglect of them, their deficiency in them, proceed from a hardness of heart, overpowering their light and convictions. And what shall long, in such a case, stop sin out of the throne? Self-pleasing and satisfaction in such a profession argues a very dangerous state and habit of mind. Sin may have a full dominion under such a profession.
(2.) The admission of an habitual formality into the performance of religious duties is of the same nature. In some the power of sin, as we observed before, prevails unto the neglect and omission of such duties. Others continue the observation [of them], but are so formal and lifeless in them, so careless as unto the exerting or exercise of grace in them, as gives an uncontrollable evidence of the power of sin and a spiritual senselessness of heart. There is nothing that the Scripture doth more frequently and severely condemn, and give as a character of hypocrites, than a diligent attendance unto a multiplication of duties whilst the heart is not spiritually engaged in them. For this cause the Lord Christ threatened the utter rejection of the lukewarm church of Laodicea; and God pronounceth a most severe sentence against all that are guilty of it, Isa. xxix. 13, 14. Yet thus it may be with many, and that thus it hath been with them many do manifest by their open apostasy, which is the common event of this frame and course long continued in; for some in the daily performance of religious duties for a season do exercise and preserve their gifts, but, there being no exercise of grace in them, after a while those gifts also do wither and decay. They are under the power of the evil whereof we treat, — namely, a hard and senseless heart, — that can approve of themselves in such a lifeless, heartless profession of religion, and performance of the duties thereof.
(3.) When men grow senseless under the dispensation of the word, and do not at all profit by it. The general ends of preaching the word unto believers are:— [1.] The increase of spiritual light, knowledge, and understanding, in them; [2.] The growth of grace, enabling to obedience; [3.] Holy excitation of grace, by impressions of its power in the communication of the mind, will, love, and grace of God, unto our souls; — which is attended with, [4.] An impression on the affections, renewing and making them more holy and heavenly continually; with, [5.] Direction and administration of spiritual strength against temptations and corruptions; and, [6.] Fruitfulness in the works and duties of obedience.
Where men can abide under the dispensation of the word without any of these effects on their minds, consciences, or lives, they are greatly hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, as in Heb. iii. 12, 13, this case is stated. Now, whether this be, — [1.] From that carelessness and security which is grown on all sorts of persons, against which God doth justly express his indignation, by withholding the power and efficacy of his word in its administration from them; or, [2.] From an increase of an unsanctified light and gifts, which fill men with high thoughts of themselves, and keep them off from that humble frame which alone is teachable; or, [3.] From a loss of all due reverence unto the ministry as God’s ordinance for all the ends of the word, with a secret fortification of conscience by prejudices against its power, from the suggestions of Satan; or, [4.] From the love of sin, which the heart would shelter and secure from the efficacy of the word; or from what other cause soever it be, — it proceeds from a dangerous hardness of heart, from the power of sin.
Where this is the state of the minds of men, where this hardness is thus prevalent in them, I do not, no man can, give them assurance that sin hath not the dominion in them; but because all these things are capable of various degrees, it may not be concluded absolutely from any or all of them, in any degree, that so it is. But this we may safely conclude, —
1. That it is impossible for any man in whom this evil frame is found in any degree, and not sincerely endeavoured against, to keep any true solid peace with God or in his own soul; what seems to be so in him is but a ruinous security.
2. That this is the high road unto final obduration and impenitency. And therefore,
3. It is the present duty of those who have any care of their souls to shake themselves out of this dust, and not to give themselves any rest until they are entered into the paths of recovery. The calls of God unto such backsliders in heart for a return are multiplied; the reasons for it and motives unto it are innumerable. This ought never to depart from their minds, that without it they shall eternally perish, and they know not how soon they may be overtaken with that destruction.
Thus far have we proceeded in the inquiry, whether sin hath the dominion in us or no. There are on the other side many evidences of the rule of grace, sufficient to discard the pleas and pretences of sin unto the throne; but the consideration of them is not my present design. I have only examined the pleas of sin which render the inquiry difficult and the case dubious; and they arise all from the actings of sin in us as it fights against the soul, which is its proper and constant work, 1 Pet. ii. 11. It doth so against the design of the law, which is to live to God; against the order and peace of it, which it disturbs; and against its eternal blessedness, which it would deprive it of. The examination of the pretences insisted on may be of some use to them that are sincere.
But, on the other hand, there are uncontrollable evidences of the dominion of sin in men, some whereof I shall mention, and only mention, because they need neither proof nor illustration:—
1. It is so where sin hath possessed the will. And it hath possessed the will when there are no restraints from sinning taken from its nature, but from its consequents only.
2. When men proclaim their sins and hide them not, — when they boast in them and of them, as it is with multitudes; or,
3. Approve of themselves in any known sin, without renewed repentance, as drunkenness, uncleanness, swearing, and the like; or,
4. Live in the neglect of religious duties in their closets and families, whence all their public attendance unto them is but hypocrisy; or,
5. Have an enmity to true holiness and the power of godliness; or,
6. Are visible apostates from profession, especially if they add, as is usual, persecution to their apostasy; or,
7. Are ignorant of the sanctifying principles of the gospel and Christian religion; or,
8. Are despisers of the means of conversion; or,
9. Live in security under open providential warnings and calls to repentance; or,
10. Are enemies in their minds unto the true interest of Christ in the world. Where these things and the like are found, there is no question what it is that hath dominion and bears rule in the minds of men. This all men may easily know, as the apostle declares, Rom. vi. 16.
Chapter V. Grounds of the Assurance Given in the Text.
The third inquiry handled, namely, What is the assurance given us, and what are the grounds thereof, that sin shall not have dominion over us — The ground of this assurance is, that we are “not under the law, but under grace” — The force of this reason shown, namely, How the law doth not destroy the dominion of sin, and how grace dethrones sin and gives dominion over it.
III. And thus much hath been spoken unto the second thing proposed at the entrance of this discourse, — namely, an inquiry, Whether sin have the dominion in any of us or no. I proceed unto that which offers itself from the words, in the third place: What is the assurance given us, and what are the grounds of it, that sin shall not have dominion over us; which lies in this, that we are “not under the law, but under grace.”
Where men are engaged in a constant conflict against sin; where they look upon it and judge it their chiefest enemy, which contends with them for their souls and their eternal ruin; where they have experience of its power and deceit, and through the efficacy of them have been often shaken in their peace and comfort; where they have been ready to despond, and say they shall one day perish under their powers, — it is a gospel word, a word of good tidings, that gives them assurance that it shall never have dominion over them.
The ground of this assurance is, that believers are “not under the law, but under grace.” And the force of this reason we may manifest in some few instances:—
First, The law giveth no strength against sin unto them that are under it, but grace doth. Sin will neither be cast nor kept out of its throne, but by a spiritual power and strength in the soul to oppose, conquer, and dethrone it. Where it is not conquered it will reign; and conquered it will not be without a mighty prevailing power: this the law will not, cannot give.
The law is taken two ways:—
1. For the whole revelation of the mind and will of God in the Old Testament. In this sense it had grace in it, and so did give both life, and light, and strength against sin, as the psalmist declares, Ps. xix. 7–9. In this sense it contained not only the law of precepts, but the promise also and the covenant, which was the means of conveying spiritual life and strength unto the church. In this sense it is not here spoken of, nor is any- where opposed unto grace.
2. For the covenant rule of perfect obedience: “Do this, and live.” In this sense men are said to be “under it,” in opposition unto being “under grace.” They are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, as a covenant. And in this sense all men are under it who are not instated in the new covenant through faith in Christ Jesus, who sets up in them and over them the rule of grace; for all men must be one way or other under the rule of God, and he rules only by the law or by grace, and none can be under both at the same time.
In this sense the law was never ordained of God to convey grace or spiritual strength unto the souls of men; had it been so, the promise and the gospel had been needless: “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law,” Gal. iii. 21. If it could have given life or strength, it would have produced righteousness, we should have been justified by it. It discovers sin and condemns it, but gives no strength to oppose it. It is not God’s ordinance for the dethroning of sin, nor for the destruction of its dominion.
This law falls under a double consideration, but in neither of them was designed to give power or strength against sin:—
1. As it was given unto mankind in the state of innocency; and it did then absolutely and exactly declare the whole duty of man, whatever God in his wisdom and holiness did require of us. It was God’s ruling of man according to the principle of the righteousness wherein he was created. But it gave no new aids against sin; nor was there any need that so it should do. It was not the ordinance of God to administer new or more grace unto man, but to rule and govern him according to what he had received; and this it continueth to do forever. It claims and continues a rule over all men, according to what they had and what they have; but it never had power to bar the entrance of sin, nor to cast it out when it is once enthroned.
2. As it was renewed and enjoined unto the church of Israel on Mount Sinai, and with them unto all that would join themselves unto the Lord out of the nations of the world. Yet neither was it then, nor as such, designed unto any such end as to destroy or dethrone sin by an administration of spiritual strength and grace. It had some new ends given then unto it, which it had not in its original constitution, the principal whereof was to drive men to the promise, and Christ therein; and this it doth by all the acts and powers of it on the souls of men. As it discovers sin, as it irritates and provokes it by its severity, as it judgeth and condemneth it, as it denounceth a curse on sinners, it drives unto this end; for this was added of grace in the renovation of it, this new end was given unto it. In itself it hath nothing to do with sinners, but to judge, curse, and condemn them.
There is, therefore, no help to be expected against the dominion of sin from the law. It was never ordained of God unto that end; nor doth it contain, nor is it communicative of, the grace necessary unto that end, Rom. viii. 3.
Wherefore, those who are “under the law” are under the dominion of sin. “The law is holy,” but it cannot make them holy who have made themselves unholy; it is “just,” but it cannot make them so, — it cannot justify them whom it doth condemn; it is “good,” but can do them no good, as unto their deliverance from the power of sin. God hath not appointed it unto that end. Sin will never be dethroned by it; it will not give place unto the law, neither in its title nor its power.
Those who are under the law will at some seasons endeavour to shake off the yoke of sin, and resolve to be no longer under its power; as, —
1. When the law presseth on their consciences, perplexing and disquieting them. The commandment comes home unto them, sin reviveth, and they die, Rom. vii. 9, 10; that is, it gives power to sin to slay the hopes of the sinner, and to distress him with the apprehension of guilt and death: for “the strength of sin is the law,” 1 Cor. xv. 56; — the power it hath to disquiet and condemn sinners is in and by the law. When it is thus with sinners, when the law presseth them with a sense of the guilt of sin, and deprives them of all rest and peace in their minds, they will resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, to relinquish its service, that they may be freed from the urgency of the law on their consciences; and they will endeavour it in some instances of duty and abstinence from sin.
2. They will do the same under surprisals with sickness, pain, dangers, or death itself. Then they will cry, and pray, and promise to reform, and set about it, as they suppose, in good earnest. This case is fully exemplified, Ps. lxxviii. 34–37; and it is manifest in daily experience amongst multitudes. There are few who are so seared and profligate but at such seasons they will think of returning to God, of relinquishing the service of sin, and vindicating themselves from under its dominion. And in some it worketh a lasting change, though no real conversion doth ensue; but with the most this “goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”
3. The same effect is produced in many by the preaching of the word. Some arrow of conviction is fastened in their minds, whereon their former ways displease them, and they judge it is better for them to change the course of their lives, and to relinquish the service of sin. These resolutions for the most part abide with them according to the society which they have or fall into. Good society may much help them in their resolves for a time, when by that which is evil and corrupt they are presently extinguished.
4. Sometimes merciful, endearing providences will have the same effect on the minds of men not obdurate in sin. Such are deliverances from imminent dangers, sparing the lives of near relations, and the like.
In such seasons, men under the law will attend unto their convictions, and endeavour for a while to shake off the yoke of sin. They will attend unto what the law saith, under whose power they are, and endeavour a compliance therewith; many duties shall be performed, and many evils abstained from, in order to the quitting themselves of sin’s dominion. But, alas! the law cannot enable them hereunto, — it cannot give them life and strength to go through with what their convictions press them unto; therefore, after a while they begin to faint and wax weary in their progress, and at length give quite over. It may be they may break off from some great sins in particular, but shake off the whole dominion of sin they cannot.
It is otherwise with them that are “under grace.” Sin shall not have dominion over them; strength shall be administered unto them to dethrone it.
“Grace” is a word of various acceptations in the Scripture. As we are here said to be under it, and as it is opposed unto the law, it is used or taken for the gospel, as it is the instrument of God for the communication of himself and his grace by Jesus Christ unto those that do believe, with that state of acceptation with himself which they are brought into thereby, Rom. v. 1, 2. Wherefore, to be “under grace” is to have an interest in the gospel covenant and state, with a right unto all the privileges and benefits thereof, to be brought under the administration of grace by Jesus Christ, — to be a true believer.
But the inquiry hereon is, how it follows from hence that sin shall not have dominion over us, that sin cannot extend its territories and rule into that state, and in what sense this is affirmed.
1. Is it that there shall be no sin in them any more? Even this is true in some sense. Sin as unto its condemning power hath no place in this state, Rom. viii. 1. All the sins of them that believe are expiated or done away, as to the guilt of them, in the blood of Christ, Heb. i. 3, 1 John i. 7. This branch of the dominion of sin, which consists in its condemning power, is utterly cast out of this state. But sin as unto its being and operation doth still continue in believers whilst they are in this world; they are all sensible of it. Those who deceive themselves with a contrary apprehension are most of all under the power of it, 1 John i. 8. Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more. This is not to be under grace, but to be in glory.
2. Is it that sin, though it abides, yet it shall not fight or contend for dominion in us? That this is otherwise we have before declared. Scripture and the universal experience of all that believe do testify the contrary; so doth the assurance here given us that it shall not obtain that dominion: for if it did not contend for it, there could be no grace in this promise, — there is none in deliverance from that whereof we are in no danger.
But the assurance here given is built on other considerations; whereof the first is, that the gospel is the means ordained and instrument used by God for the communication of spiritual strength unto them that believe, for the dethroning of sin. It is the “power of God unto salvation,” Rom. i. 16, that whereby and wherein he puts forth his power unto that end. And sin must be really dethroned by the powerful acting of grace in us, and that in a way of duty in ourselves. We are absolved, quitted, freed from the rule of sin, as unto its pretended right and title, by the promise of the gospel; for thereby are we freed and discharged from the rule of the law, wherein all the title of sin unto dominion is founded, for “the strength of sin is the law:” but we are freed from it, as unto its internal power and exercise of its dominion, by internal spiritual grace and strength in its due exercise. Now, this is communicated by the gospel; it gives life and power, with such continual supplies of grace as are able to dethrone sin, and forever to prohibit its return.
This, then, is the present case supposed and determined by the apostle: “You that are believers are all of you conflicting with sin. You find it always restless and disquieting, sometimes strong and powerful. When it is in conjunction with any urgent temptation, you are afraid it will utterly prevail over you, to the ruin of your souls. Hence you are wearied with it, groan under it, and cry out for deliverance from it.” All these things the apostle at large insists on in this and the next chapter. “But now,” saith he, “be of good comfort; not- withstanding all these things, and all your fears upon them, sin shall not prevail, it shall not have the dominion, it shall never ruin your souls.” But what ground have we for this hope? what assurance of this success? “This you have,” saith the apostle, “ ‘Ye are not under the law, but under grace;’ or the rule of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, administered in the gospel.” But how doth this give relief? “Why, it is the ordinance, the instrument of God, which he will use unto this end — namely, the communication of such supplies of grace and spiritual strength as shall eternally defeat the dominion of sin.”
This is one principal difference between the law and the gospel, and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, “What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?” Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them.
Hereon then depends, in the first place, the assurance of the apostle’s assertion, that “sin shall not have dominion over us,” because we are “under grace.” We are in such a state as wherein we have supplies in readiness to defeat all the attempts of sin for rule and dominion in us.