His Obedience Infinitely Exceeds Your Disobedience

Satan is the great enemy of our souls. When he realizes that he cannot stop God’s saving a person, he does all that he can to trouble and vex that soul. Recognizing this, the Puritans spent a great portion of their sermon ministering to wounded souls in their congregation.  For example, consider these words from Christopher Love:

Take this for your comfort, O you perplexed conscience: when you are in a corner, none but God and your own soul together, you think no man’s sin so grievous as yours. Then take this for your comfort: let your sin be never so great, yet the satisfaction and sufferings of Christ are far greater. “The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” The Red Sea did with as much ease drown Pharaoh and all his host as it could do a single man. The red sea of Christ’s blood can drown a whole host, and a huge multitude of sins, as well as a small lust. Though you have need to shed more tears for sin in a way of contrition, yet Christ needs not shed more blood for sin in a way of redemption, for “He hath saved them to the utmost that come unto God by Him.” The Apostle, triumphing in the fifth chapter of Romans, means that there is not so much evil in sin to damn us as there is good in the gift, in Christ, to save us, because your sin is the guilt of the creature, and Christ’s satisfaction is the satisfaction of God. Your sin is the sin of a finite creature, and His sufferings are the sufferings of an infinite Mediator.

Do what you can, and mourn that you can do no better; and then God will say, “Though you cannot keep the law completely, yet My Son has kept it for you. I accept His obedience as your obedience, and His righteousness as your righteousness.” Oh, what grace and mercy is here! How may this cheer up your hearts in the midst of all discouragements that lie upon you! Again, for your comfort, know that if in sincerity of heart you endeavor to keep what you hear, in divine acceptance it is all the same as if you had perfectly kept all that you hear. If it is the desire and labor of your soul to obey God’s will and observe His commands, in divine acceptance it is looked upon as if it were actually done by you.

It is worth your noticing what is said in Scripture: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac, and he that had received the promise, offered up his only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17). Abraham did not actually do what is said here that he did, but because Abraham did it in the purpose of his heart, because the desire and resolution of his soul was to obey God’s command, therefore the Scripture accounts it as done! Oh, take this for your comfort, you who are a child of Abraham, who walk in the steps and faith of Abraham, the very desires and purposes of your heart are looked upon as if they were really and actually done. If you would pray better, hear better, and practice more than you do, in divine account this is looked upon as if you had already done it.

But Satan is crafty. He will even try to use our strength against us. If he cannot get us to be discouraged, he will seek to get us to pore over our sins so much that we become useless. Christopher Love addressed the issue of being too cast down for sin:

A man is cast down for sin too much when he is so cast down for sin that he casts off duty. This is when a man shall thus reason against himself: “What need do I have to pray? And why should I perform holy duties? I know God will not hear me. He will not hear my prayers, let me pray as long as I can and as often as I will. And so for confession of sin. What need do I have to confess sin? I know God will not pardon my sin. And why should I beg for grace? I know God will not give me grace. Why should I hear sermons? I know God will not hear me, nor accept my duties; and I shall not get good by all I do, and by all I hear.” 

These reasonings, O man, are very sinful, and it argues far too great a humiliation for sin. As despair in any man cuts off hope, so such a sinful frame cuts off endeavors. Fools go on (said Solomon) and are confident, but sometimes fools go on and are careless; for a man to be so cast down for sin as to be careless in discharge of duties argues too much dejection of spirit. Despair is the total eclipse of the mind with the blackest fumes arising from the burning lake of fearful terrors.

Your casting down for sin is too much when you are so dejected and cast down for sin that it leaves you indisposed for holy duties. Good men have been so, and good men may be so overtaken. You have an instance in Asaph, in Psalm 77:4: “Thou holdest mine eyes waking; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” Asaph prayed, and his soul was so sorely troubled and overwhelmed that he could not speak. It is as if he had said, “I would pray, but I cannot pray.” He was so troubled by reason of his sin. Then indeed is your humiliation too much when the sight of your sins shall make you unfit for doing your duty—this is not necessary, but sinful.

As Christ’s person excels your person, so His obedience infinitely exceeds your disobedience. Therefore, said the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:16: “But the free gift is of many offenses unto justification.” Here the apostle intimates that though there is great guilt in sin, yet there is greater mercy and merits in Christ. For as by Adam there came sin and death, so by Jesus Christ there came righteousness and life, for “as the wages of sin is death, so the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). There is not so much guilt in sin as there is merit in Christ. There is not so much guilt in sin to condemn as there is merit in Jesus Christ to save. Therefore, “Why should you be cast down, O my soul? Jesus Christ has laid down His life for me, and in laying down His life He has made full satisfaction for sin unto His Father.” And though there are required more tears for sin by way of humiliation, yet there is needed no more blood for sin by way of satisfaction. Therefore be not excessively cast down for sin.

The English and American Puritan Thomas Hooker addressed this same concern. People have a tendency to be extremists: either they will not consider their sins at all, or else they will consider them so much as to be defeated by them, since their focus is on the sinfulness of their sin, and not on the sweetness of their Savior:

We must not look too long, nor pore too much or unwarrantably, upon our own corruptions within, so far as to be disheartened by them from coming to the riches of God’s grace. For it is a sure and everlasting truth that whatsoever sight of sin unfits a man for mercy—when he may take it, and it is offered—that sight of sin is ever sinful, though it has never so fair an outside of sorrow and deep humiliation. Namely, as when we think and say, as often we do, “If I had a soul so thoroughly humbled, bruised, and softened, I could do well enough.” And thus the devil keeps us in sin by poring too long and much upon our sins, thinking thereby to get away from them. But such a course is a sinful course. Tell me not of sorrow, repentance, and humiliation; all that sorrow, humiliation, and repentance is worth nothing that keeps a man from receiving mercy when there is need and when it is offered. We see this in Abraham. He had the promise that he would have a son in his old age. Romans 4:19: “He being not weak in faith, regarded not his old age or deadness, nor the barrenness of Sarah’s womb, but believed in Him who had promised it.” There he rests and there he stays; he saw his body was dead, yet there was a living promise. And what if Sarah’s womb was barren? Yet the promise was fruitful. He knew his own deadness and her barrenness, but he stood not long there. 

Like Abraham, therefore, we may see our sins and consider our many weaknesses, but we must not so settle upon them or consider them so as to be hindered by them from coming to God for mercy, which He freely offers us, and we stand in need of. 

It is fitting that we sin our sins, and we ought to see them; but we must not stay there too long. See them we must, but not fasten on them so as to shackle us from coming to Christ. I have said it, and will say again, that that sight of sin which does not drive a man to Christ for mercy is ever sinful.

The key to seeing ourselves aright comes from α right use of God’s Word, which will lead to right thinking. Thomas Hooker has some helpful words on this subject, which we will turn to in our next post.

Dr. Don Kistler (DonKistler.org) is an ordained minister residing in Orlando. He is the founder of the Northampton Press, and the author of A Spectacle Unto God: The Life and Death of Christopher Love and Why Read the Puritans Today? The editor of all the Soli Deo Gloria Puritan reprints, Kistler has edited over 150 books and is a contributing author for Justification by Faith ALONE!; Sola Scriptura; Trust and Obey: Obedience and the Christian; Onward, Christian Soldiers: Protestants Affirm the Church; and Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching.

Related Links

"Grace in Salvation" by Mark Johnston

"Fear and the Lord’s Amazing Grace" by Christina Fox

"The Puritans and Their Evangelistic Model" by Joel Beeke

The Gospel: What? Why? How?, with Sinclair Ferguson, Harry Reeder, Ligon Duncan, and Robert Godfrey

"Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God" by Carl Trueman

Don Kistler