... Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.—Revelation 15.3.
TIMES OF PERSECUTION IN SCOTLAND,
SUFFERERS FOR THE ROYAL PREROGATIVES OF JESUS CHRIST.
Sermons & Lectures by Alexander Shields.
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."John 3.3,5.HAVING spoken of these words before, I shall only now resume a little of what was then said, showing the necessity of regeneration. And oh, to be convinced of it! for unless ye be regenerated, ye are not in the kingdom of grace, nor will ever enter into or see the kingdom of glory. There is no coming to heaven without it; for unless ye be regenerate, ye cannot please God. All that ye do is sin. Your reading, praying, hearing, and other duties, are sin, and yet it would be your sin to forbear them. The ploughing of the wicked is sin. Unless ye be regenerated, ye have not a right unto the privileges of the children of God, for without regeneration ye are not children; unless ye be regenerated, ye know nothing of God. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."DOCTRINE.That unless a man be regenerated, he is not within the kingdom of grace, nor will he ever enter into the kingdom of glory. "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."In speaking to this, I shall show you how the Scripture holds out regeneration, by which we may know something of its nature. In Scripture then, regeneration is called a victory. And
1st, It is a victory over sin and Satan. All men, by nature, are under the power and dominion of sin, and slaves unto the devil. "He is the prince of the power of the air, that worketh in the children of disobedience." The heart of the natural man is the shop where the devil, as it were, forgeth those lusts and corruptions, and heart-risings against God, and wicked, unclean thoughts which domineer in them. Satan is the strong man that keeps the house. He keeps all quiet within. He keeps doors and windows close, that no light may enter in to disturb the man in his rest, or awake him out of his sleep, so that he sees not the danger, and thus the man is kept until one stronger than Satan, even Jesus Christ, comes, and sets him at liberty. He opens the prison doors, and makes the prisoner come forth, and show himself, and so gives him the victory over sin and death.
2ndly, It is a victory over the world; "For whosoever is born of God, overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Man by nature hath the world, as it were, in his heart, and greedily looks after it with his eye. He is a slave to it, and his affections are set upon it; but when he is regenerated, he gets the victory over it; he gets it under his feet; he feels its vanity, and his affections are set on things above.
3rdly, The victory which they get is not enough to express what regeneration is, for they have their persons changed as well as their place; seeing when one gets the victory, he changes his place yet not his person. So to hold out this regeneration more fully, it is called conversion in Scripture: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Before conversion, they were in a state of sin and misery, but now in a state of grace. Their persons and performances are now accepted before God through Christ. They are now effectually called, their minds are enlightened, and their wills renewed, whereby they are persuaded to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered unto them in the Gospel.
4thly, Conversion is not enough to express regeneration, for those regenerated have their natures renewed, whereby they are persuaded and enabled as well as their state changed; therefore the Scripture calls it renovation: "And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds." Their natures are renewed, and the whole faculties of their soul renewed. Their understanding, their will, their affections, and all are renewed and changed within them.
5thly, Regeneration in Scripture is called a translation: "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son." Oh, this is a great and wonderful translation! for those that are regenerated, are translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of Christ, from the power of darkness into His marvelous light, from death to life; and at last they shall be translated from the Church militant here to the Church triumphant above, from the valley of sin and misery unto that rest above where glory dwells.
6thly, Regeneration is called circumcision. Those regenerated have the foreskin of their hearts circumcised; that is, the strength of sin and corruption is broken, and their lusts and idols are out off.
7thly, It is called the first resurrection. The regenerated are brought out of the grave of sin, in which, while in a state of nature, they were lying stinking and rotting in sin. And though they be buried with Christ by baptism unto death, yet they arise from the dead, and walk in newness of life. They die unto sin, by looking unto the death of Christ, whereby they get strength for the killing, subduing, and mortifying of sin. "And they live unto righteousness," for which end they look unto the resurrection of Christ, thereby to be enabled to rise from the dead, live unto righteousness, and walk as the children of light.
8thly, It is called a creation. We are created over again. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; and behold, all things are become new." And in this creation there is much, if not more, of the power of God required in effectuating it, than was in the last creation; for in it there was nothing to hinder it, but in the second there is much oppositionthe man's self and the devil do all they can to hinder it. Now, know ye what regeneration is, and know ye what it is to get the victory over the devil and the world? The regenerate man gets such a victory. Know ye what conversion iswhat renovation iswhat translation iswhat it is to have your heart circumcised? Know ye what it is to be risen again with Christ? Know ye what it is to be created again in Christ, to have "old things done away, and to have all things become new?" If ye know not these things, ye are yet in a miserable condition. Oh, rest not until ye know them, for they are of great weight and moment. And
First, To show you further what regeneration is, I shall give you this definition of it. Regeneration is a supernatural work wrought by the Spirit of God in the hearts of all the elect, whereby they are enlightened and enabled to lay hold upon Christ for salvation. For the explaining of this definition ye must know:
1. That it does not flow from nature. No man can change himself when he will, according to that which Papists say, that before conversion a man may have some preparatory work by way of merit. But this is false and erroneous, for when the Lord converts any, He finds nothing in them worthy of love, or to make Him love them. He finds them in a woeful, wretched and rebellious state, enemies to Him. The change that He works in them is but a venting and outletting of that everlasting love, which He had unto them. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that sheweth mercy."
Again, The Quakers and some other enemies of free grace assert that man may have some efficiency by way of concurrence with the Spirit. This is also false and erroneous; for there is nothing of nature's work in it. The person converted does not help. When the Lord converts any, He finds them like the wretched infant"All polluted in their own blood"so that they can do no more to help themselves out of that miserable estate than an infant can do.
2. Regeneration is a work far above the reach of nature. And
3. It is a work not only above, but against nature. Conversion meets with much opposition. Nature does all in its power to hinder it.
Secondly, The efficient cause of this work of regeneration is the three persons of the blessed Trinity who all concur to effectuate it.
1. The Father concurs in this work. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which, according to his abundant mercy, hath begotten us again unto a lively hope."
2. The Son Jesus Christ concurs in this work. It is the fruit and effect of His eternal purpose and purchase. And
3. The Holy Ghost concurs in this work also: "Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Thirdly, The subjects of this great work are the elect.
1. It is only the elect that are regenerated, and none but they. Reprobates know not what it is. They have no share in it.
2. The elect are regenerated in the whole man, and in no part unrenewed. All the faculties of their souls are changed. Their understandings, their wills, and affections, are changed as to their use. Their eyes, which were wont before to view vanities, take delight to behold the wonders of God in His word and works. The tongue, which before spoke idle or profane words, or, it may be, blasphemed God, now speaks to Him. The hands, which before were active in wickedness, now act for God. The feet, which were wont to run with delight in the ways of sin, are now changed and take delight to run God's errands. Now, there are some things ye should take notice of concerning regeneration.
(1.) Those regenerated render no help in it. There is nothing in them to move the Lord to change them; man hath neither will nor power of his own; it is only an act of God's free grace, and free love. Neither, where this work is begun, can they carry it on without Him; He must work all their works in them as well as for them. Man hath neither will nor power of his own to change himself when and how he pleases. And
(2.) This work is irresistible. When the Lord begins to take a dealing with any, though His work meet with opposition and resistance from our own selves through sin, corruption and the devil, yet He will overcome all these and carry on His work to perfection. Nothing can stand before Him. Nothing can resist Him. But
(3.) Regeneration is not perfected in this life. The regenerated are but renewed in part, and there is part of them corrupt and unrenewed. Though they be perfect as to their justification, yet as to their sanctification they are not, they will not be perfect in holiness till they be in heaven. This condemns the blasphemous Quakers who maintain perfection in this life. And
(4.) Those once regenerated will persevere unto the end. Those once in Christ, though they may fall sadly, yet cannot totally and finally fall away; "for whom the Lord loves, he loves unto the end;" and that condemns the Papists and some other heretics,1 who hold that a man may be in a state of grace, and yet fall away totally from ithe may be a child of God today and a child of the devil tomorrow. But this is wickedly false, for the eternal decree of God makes it impossible; the love of God makes it impossible; the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace make it impossible;2 the purchase of Christ's death, and the work of the Spirit of God in the soul of the regenerated, make it impossible. Moreover, as in giving you some description of regeneration, the Lord hath seen fit in Scripture, sometimes by metaphors taken from natural things, to hold forth spiritual things, I shall expatiate a little upon one of them, viz., that in the text of being born againby which is meant regeneration, being born of the water and of the Spirit,and I shall show you how regeneration and the birth of an infant agree. And
1. In regeneration, before the new creature be brought forth, it must be conceived. This is ordinarily done by the word, especially in those come to years. This is the seed of God sown in the heart, which afterwards comes to maturity. The way that the Lord takes in beginning and carrying on the work of conversion in an infant is inexpressibly mysterious. We must, however, believe that He does it, though we know not the way. But in those come to years, He ordinarily begins with them by the ministry of the word. This is, as it were, a well-husked hook cast in among a great number of fishes, which will catch some, though others are not catched thereby, but will play and jump about it.
2. After the seed of God is sown in the heart, the Spirit begins with its convictions, convincing of these things following:
(1.) Of the wrath of God coming against them for sin; how they were born under His wrath, and liable to His curse both in this life and that which is to come, and that if they abide in their natural condition, they will assuredly meet with eternal wrath.
(2.) They are convinced of their own hatefulness and loathsomeness by nature. They see sin in its ugly nature, how dishonourable it is unto God, and grieving unto the Holy Spirit of grace.
(3.) They are convinced of the hurtfulness of sin, that it is destructive unto their souls, and if they continue in that condition they cannot escape eternal wrath; and this makes them look out for the remedy provided.
(4.) They are convinced of the heinousness of sin, when they look back and reflect upon their former ways. They see their sin to be very heinous, to be against much light and over the belly of much convictiontheir consciences testifying against them, that they were doing sin. "Oh," will the poor creature say, "my sin is more heavy and heinous than the sin of any other; for at such a time the Lord was kind to me, yet I have abused all the instances of His kindness. I have sinned the more against Him, and trampled underfoot His loving-kindness and mercies." The consideration of this will humble the poor convinced creature, and make his heart melt in godly sorrow for sin, and fill his face, as it were, with shame and confusion.
3. In regeneration, when the work of conversion is begun, the Lord will carry it on to perfection. After these regenerated are, as it were, formed, there is the growth of the members of the new man; for as the old man hath so many members to make up a man complete, so hath the new man. And by this growth the understanding is more and more changed and enlightened so as to see the sad condition they are in by nature, and also made to see the beauty, excellency, fullness and sufficiency that are in Christ. Their wills are renewed so that they willingly close with Christ. Their hearts are inclined unto His service, and they delight in Him; and their affections are also changed so that they love Him, and their hearts are also drawn out after Him. And
4. The birth, which is faith, whereby the poor soul, when it sees and is convinced of its sin and necessity, and that all that it can do or all that any creature can do for its help and relief, is to no purpose, looks unto and closes with Jesus Christ for salvation, as He is freely offered to us in the gospel. Then the soul cordially and fully closes with Christ, and accepts of Him for wisdom, justification, sanctification, righteousness and complete redemption. This is saving and justifying faith whereby the soul lays hold of Christ for salvation. Now, there are these acts in faith:
1st, There is the assent of the mind believing, and giving heed unto all the truths of the gospela belief that Christ suffered for sinners, and that salvation is to be had through faith in His name.
2ndly, There is the consent of the will, whereby the soul willingly, cheerfully, and cordially, embraces Him as its own Saviour and Redeemer. And
3rdly, The soul makes fiducial application of Christ, and of all the promises of the gospel unto itself. It not only sees fullness and sufficiency in Christ and in the benefits of His purchase, but also makes particular application of all these unto itself. But
4thly, The soul sets about personal covenanting with Christ, whereby it gives away itself and all that it hath unto Him. It makes a free resignation of soul and body to Him, and to be for Him in its place and station, day and generation. It takes and embraces Jesus Christ as its Saviour and Redeemer, King, Priest, and Prophet, takes Him and His cross, and resolves to follow Him through good and bad report; and this personal covenanting betwixt a man and Christ must be as formal and explicit as betwixt man and wife, and master and servant.
5. After the child is born, it gets its clothing; so those that are regenerated are clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ. They are clothed with it as with a garment. Oh, what a brave clothing they get! Ye may see it excellently described in Ezek. 16.10-13. "I clothed thee also with broidered work, with robes of needle wrought."
Lastly, After the child is born, though it be clothed yet it cannot live without food; so they cannot endure to live without the word preached. It is as food unto their souls: "They desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may live thereby!" And also they cannot live without the constant supplies of grace, and the influences of the Spirit of which I shall speak afterwards.
USE.Now for use of all this, I would exhort you to search and try yourselves, and see whether or not ye be born again. It is a matter of no less concernment than that upon which your soul's happiness depends. Therefore, try yourselves, whether or not ye be regenerated. Rest not with a secure "may be" that ye are converted, but put that great question out of doubt and danger, and I will give you these marks, amongst others which might be named, to try yourselves by. And
1. Try yourselves by this: What effect had the word ever upon your hearts? Did ye ever see yourselves in the glass of God's law? Did ye ever see your spots and blemishes there, so that ye were humbled and broken in yourselves and made to see the absolute necessity of fleeing out of yourselves and into Christ for life and salvation? What way did the Lord begin with your souls? Knew ye ever what it was to be convinced of sin and misery? Were ye ever afraid of the wrath of God? And did ye ever see the sinfulness of sin in its hateful, loathsome, hurtful, and heinous nature?
2. Try yourselves by this: If ever ye had any exercise, what way got ye any outgate from it? If ever ye were under any sight or sense of sin, or fear of wrath, and your conscience were awakened, and ye knew not what way to get it quieted again, whither did you rununto Christ or to your duties? Whether did ye lay hold of Christ for salvation, and whether did ye make application to the blood of sprinkling for washing, cleansing, and purging, or to your duties, praying, reading, and hearing of the word? Which of these did ye? Knew ye ever what the pangs of the new birth were? Oh, try yourselves by the outgate ye got from your trouble, for if ye have run to your duties and there have gotten rest, and not unto Christ, "Ye are yet in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity."
3. Try yourselves by this: Can ye live without spiritual food, and not long for it and hunger for it! Can ye live contentedly without the preaching of the gospel and not, "as new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may live thereby?" Can ye live without new supplies of grace, and the influences of the Spirit; if ye can live without all these (for these are the food of the soul), ye are strangers unto the new birth, and know not what that regeneration is which is mentioned in Scripture. This I gather from the text, "Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
Again, there are fiery influences; and this may be gathered from, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost as with fire." These influences, though they come from one and the same Spirit, yet differ as to their working and operations. For
1. As to the first of these, viz., the watery influences, I shall show you wherein the water and they agree, whereby ye may know somewhat of the working of those influences. And
(1.) As water quickens, and makes the herbs and grass grow, so do the influences of the Spirit quicken the dead soul, and make it lively and vigorous in the exercises of godliness. He quickens us to duty, and makes the graces lively. "For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty: and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring.3 And they shall spring up as among the grass: as willows by the water courses." But
(2.) Although the water quickens, yet it also drowns. So do these influences of the Spirit, for thereby sin is drowned, and corruption mortified, and a body of death subdued. "But if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
(3.) As water refreshes, and quenches the thirst of the weary ground, so do the influences of the Spirit. They prove refreshing unto the soul of the weary pilgrims in wandering through the wilderness. Their affections are more cooled and weaned from the things of this world, and set upon those things above.
(4.) As water cleanseth and washeth away filth, so by the influence of the Spirit, we are led and directed to the "fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness." In this fountain we shall get cleansing from all our sins and spots of uncleanness.
(5.) As water makes fruitful, so do the influences of the Spirit. They make the soul fruitful in graces and make it grow in holiness and advance in religion. They make the fruit of the Spirit appear, thereby God is glorified, and they themselves strengthened and confirmed in His way. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance," &c.
2. As to the second sort, or kind of influences, viz., Fiery, I shall show you from the similitude how fitly they are called so. And
(1.) As the fire is of a penetrating nature, and pierces into everything cast into it, so do the influences of the Spirit. They penetrate the inner man, and pierce into the most secret part of the heart, discovering the lukewarmness and latent abominations therein, and make known the secret wickedness that is in the high places of the soul, whereby it is humbled and made see its need of Christ. And
(2.) As fire hath a heart and flame with it, so have the influences of the Spirit. They make love to Christ burn and blaze. They make zeal for His honour flame in the soul, with a vigorous pursuing after Christ to get union and communion with Him, and with more earnestness in hating, opposing, and resisting every sin, lust, and idol.
(3.) As fire is of a penetrating nature, and makes the smoke separate from the flame, so do the Spirit's influences separate us from sin, light from darkness, life from death, and the new man from the old man; and between the two there is a great struggle; for the believer is but renewed in part. There is flesh as well as spirit in him. So the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary one to the other. But at length the Spirit gets the victory over the flesh, and so triumpheth over sin at last.
(4.) As fire is of a purifying and purging nature, so doth the influences of the Spirit lead unto Christ, and make application of His blood for purging, and the believer is purified, even as He is pure. Their desire and design is to be holy, "as he is holy who hath called them," and their longing is to be more and more conformed unto His image, and to have the full and free enjoyment of Him in heaven. "There they shall see him as he is," and behold Him without any more intervening clouds between Him and them.
(5.) As fire is of a consuming nature to what is thrown into it, so through the Spirit the believer mortifies the deeds of the body, gets them destroyed, and gets lusts and corruptions crucified. By the influence of the Spirit, believers are quickened and stirred up to set about duty more vigorously, and to the work of sanctification day by day, and are enabled "more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness."
Now, know ye what it is to long, pray for, and receive? Know ye what it is to be quickened, revived, refreshed, comforted, raised and stirred up unto duty? Now, in the last place, I shall give you a few marks of those who are born again. And
1. They love God. They love Him with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength.
2. Those that are regenerated are humble and lowly under the sight and sense of sin, their vileness and emptiness, and under the sense of the Lord's greatness, holiness, and goodness. Says David, "Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; nor do I exercise myself in things too high for me." "My soul is even as a weaned child." This is the character of a man humbled for sin.
3. Those that are born again make a dedication of themselves and all that they have unto the Lord to be for Him, and for His service in their day and generation. "They present their bodies to him as living sacrifices, holy, and acceptable, which is their reasonable service."
4. They are not conformed unto the world; but "transformed by the renewing of their minds." They are not carnal but spiritual. For since they are risen with Christ, they seek things that are above where Christ sitteth at God's right hand, and not the things that are on earth.
5. They cannot live contentedly without the gospel. They cannot endure to want the preaching of the word; "but as new born babes, they desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby," for it is as food unto their souls. When they have it, they labour to improve it, delight in it, and feed upon it; and when they want it, they long to have it again.
They get the victory over the world, and they are not slaves or drudges unto it. They get the world under their feet, and their affections are more and more weaned from it. "Whosever is born of God, overcometh the world; this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." And "Whosever is born of God, doth not commit sin." This is not, as blasphemous Quakers maintain, that those born of God sin not, but are perfect in this life.4 But when it is here said that they do not commit sin, the meaning is they do not commit sin wilfully, wittingly, and deliberately, and with pleasure and delight, as formerly they did; and when they do sin (as it is true in the woeful experience of all the saints that they do sin), yet there is one part within them witnessing, wrestling, and protesting against it. They labour under it, but they confess and mourn over it, and run in unto Christ for pardon. And
Finally, Those who are born again love the saints and people of God, because they are beloved of Him, and have His image stamped upon them: "We know that we are passed from death to life, because we love the brethren." "He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death."
1. Viz., The Arminians, one of the leading articles of whose scheme or gloomy fabric is, that they deny the perseverance of the saints, maintaining that a believer may totally and finally fall away from a state of grace.
2. None need be surprised that Mr. Shields mentions the covenant of redemption and the covenant of grace as distinct, in terms of speaking, one from the other, seeing many of our old worthy divines, both Scotch and English, were of that opinion. And I conceive it is partly from this that some difference hath fallen in concerning the proper condition of the covenant; for instance, our old divines call that eternal contract or agreement made betwixt the Father and the Son concerning the salvation of the elect, the covenant of redemption, of which covenant the condition they hold to be the obedience, satisfaction, and righteousness of Christ. The other covenant, Being founded upon this, they call the covenant of grace, reconciliation, or gospel covenant, made with the elect in and through Christ their Head; of which faith is the condition to interest them in that covenant, receiving Christ for righteousness and eternal life, which point is clearly held forth and fully illustrated in Mr. Dickson's "Therapeutica Sacra," Mr. Gillespie's "Ark of the Covenant Opened," Mr. Hamilton's "Catechism on the Three Covenants," and Mr. Flavel's "Vindiciarum Vindex," second Appendix, of which hear a few words:"We acknowledge," says he, "there was a covenant made properly with Christ alone, which we call the covenant of redemption. This covenant, indeed, though it was made for us, yet was not made with us: it had its condition, and that condition was laid upon Christ, viz., that He should assume our nature, and pour out His soul unto the death, which condition He was solely concerned to perform. But besides this, there is a covenant of grace made with Him and all believers in Him, with Him primarily as the Head, and with them as the members who personally come into this covenant. This covenant of grace made with believers in Christ is not the same, nor must be confounded with the covenant of redemption. They are two distinct covenants; for in the covenant of grace, into which believers are taken, there is a Mediator, and this Mediator is Christ Himself. But in the other covenant there neither was nor could be any mediator, which manifestly distinguishes them. Besides, in the covenant of grace Christ bequeathes many a rich legacy, as He is the Testator, but no man gives a legacy unto himself. This covenant is really and properly made with every believer, as he is a member of Jesus Christ the Head." And the condition of this Flavel makes to be faith.
Now according to the present system these two covenants (or rather cardinal branches) being blended together make but one covenant, and Christ's righteousness, active and passive obedience, exclusive of faith or any other grace, is made the condition thereof. But as our worthy Reformers and renowned sufferers (who were mostly, if not all, of the former judgment) said so much to the commendation of free grace, and neither asserted faith to be the condition of the covenant of redemption, nor yet meritorious of salvation, might not these two, without casting a slur upon the memory and doctrine of these worthy men, be easily reconciled, by asserting that the active and passive obedience or complete mediatory righteousness of Christ is the proper condition of the covenant of redemption, as it was contracted betwixt the Father and the Son from eternity, and so is the meritorious cause of a sinner's justification, pardon of sin, and acceptance before God? But as this is made over unto man in a covenant of free grace and reconciliation, according to the constitution of which in the gospel, faith is organically, or instrumentally, the condition by which the soul is interested in Christ, causa sine qua non, unto all the saving benefits of the new covenant. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." "He that believeth on the Son hath life, and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life." "Without faith it is impossible to please God."
3. See Mr. Guthrie upon this text, Sermon III.
4. Of the same stamp were some of our modern Methodists, particularly the followers of the Wesleys, in New England, some of whom, both men and women, positively declared, that they had not sinned for a twelvemonth in thought, word, or deed.