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freely pardon all your fins; would renew you in the spirit of your minds; would fit you for his service on earth, and for his presence and enjoyinent in heaven.
Thus I have explaine<l at considerable length, and with all the care and accuracy in my power, the great and general evidence of regeneration, viz. the superiority of the interest of God and the Redeemer in the heart, above the interest of inferior good. This, I hope, will be of use in itself, to distinguish the precious from the vile, to preserve you from fin, and excite you to diligence in every part of your duty, that it may be more and more inanifcst. At the same tiine, it will be of the greatest service, in the use and application of other figns of real religion, by shewing when they are conclusive, and when they are not.
CHA P. III.
Of the steps by which this change is accomplished.
E proceed now to consider by what steps, and by
what means, this change is brought about. I am deeply sensible how difficult a part of the subject this is, and how hard it will be to treat of it in a distinct and precife, and at the same time, in a cautious and guarded man. ner. It is often complained of in those who write on this fubject, that they confine and limit the EOLY ONE, and that they give unnecessary alarms to those who have not had experience of every particular which they think proper to mention. There is no doubt but God acts in an * absolute and sovereign manner in the dispensation of his grace, as in every other part of his will. As he cannot be limited as to persons, so neither as to the time and manner of their reformation. To this purpose, and in this precise meaning, our Saviour says, “ The wind bloweth where it “ lifteth, and thou hearest the found thereof, but canst not “ tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth : so is every “ one that is born of the Spirit.”+
Sometimes it pleaseth God to snatch finners from the very brink of the pit, to raise up some of the most abandoned profligates, as trophies of his victorious grace and mercy; while he suffers others, far more moderate and decent, who are “not far from the kingdom of God,” finally to fall short of it. He sometimes glorifies his
It will be proper to inform the reader, that the word “absolute" used here, and in some other places of this discourse, is by no means to be understood as fignifying the same thing with "arbitrary." He who acts arbitrarily, acis without any reason at all. To lay this of the divine nr cedure, would be little less than blasphemy. When we say that Goi acis “in an absolute and sovereign manner," the meaning is, that he acts upon tlie best and strongelt reasons, and for the noblest and most excellerteds; but which are many or most of them beyond our reach and comprehension; and particularly, that there is not the least foundation for fuppofing that the reasons of preference are taken from comparative human merit.
+ Juhn iü. 8.
mercy at once, by converting his most inveterate enemies, and making them the most zealous, active, and successful advocates for his caufe. Such an instance was the apostle Paul, who from a persecutor become a preacher. Sometimes conversion is speedily and suddenly brought about, and the times and circumstances of the change may be eafily ascertained. This was the case with the jailor recorded in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The fame may be said of the apostle Paul; and there have been particular examples of it in every age. Sometimes, on the other hand, the reception of the truth, and renovation of the heart, goes on by flow and insensible degrees; nor is it easy to say by what means the change was begun, or at what time it was compleated. This was perhaps the case with most, if not all, the disciples of our Lord, during his personal ministry.
Sometimes the change is very signal and sensible, the growth and improvement of the spiritual life speedy and remarkable, the greatest finners becoming the most emi. nent saints; like the woman mentioned in the gospel, to whom many sins were forgiven, and who loved her Re. deemer much. Sometimes, on the other hand, the change is very doubtful, and the progress of the believer hardly discernible. Some of this fort are reproved by the apostle Paul in the following words, which are but too applicable to many professing Christians of the present age : “ For " when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need " that one teach you again, which be the first-principles " of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need “ of milk, and not of strong meat."*_Sometimes the convert hath much peace and sensible comfort, rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; and sometimes, on the other hand, he is distressed with doubts and fears, and made to walk in darkness. Once more, fome finners are brought in by deep and long humiliation, and are almost distracted with legal terrors, while others are powerfully, though sweetly, constrained by the cords of divine love. All these “ worketh the self same spirit, who divi " deth to every man severally as he will.” I desire, that what has now been said, may be still kept in mind; fo that if the evidences of a faving change can be produced, there need he little solicitude about the time or manner of its being wrought.
* Heb. v. 12.
What I propofe to offer on this part of the subject, is not to be considered as in the least degree contrary to, or inconsistent with, these truths. Nay, I am not to lay down a plan and say, this is the ordinary way in which finners are brought to the saving knowledge of God, leaving it to him, in fome few, uncommon, and extraordinary cases, to take sovereign fieps, and admit exceptions from the ordinary rules. This is a way of speaking common enough; buthough it may be very well meant, I apprehend it hath not in it much, either of truth or utility. The salvation of every child of Adam is of free, absolute, sovereign grace: and the actual change may be wrought at any time, in any manner, by any means, and will produce its effects in any measure, that to infinite wisdom thall seem proper. Neither ought we to pretend to account for the diversity in any other manner than our Saviour does : “Even so, Father, “ for so it seemed good in thy fight.”* Therefore what I have in view, is to fpeak of such iteps in the changeasare, in substance at least, common to all true converts. It will be a sort of analysis, or more fuil explication of the change itself, and serve, among other uses, farther to distinguish the real from the counterfeit. Too much can hardly be faid on this subject : “For what is the chaff to the wheat ?
faith the Lord.” It will also illustrate the divine wildom, as well as fovereignty, by showing how that diversity of operation, fo remarkable in different subjects, produces in all at last the same blessed effect.
There must be a discovery of the real nature of God.
N the first place, one important and necessary fiep in
I a ,
. Luke x. 21.
a discovery of the real nature, the infinite majesty, and transcendent glory of the living God! Perhaps some will be surprifed, that, as usual, a conviction of sin is not men. tioned first, as the preliminary step. I enter into no quarrel or debate with those who do fo; but I have first men. tioned the other, which is but feldom taken notice of, from a firm persuafion, that a discovery of the nature and glory of the true God lies at the foundation of all. This alone can produce falutary convictions of fin; for how can we know what fin is, till we know him against whom we have finned. The same thing only will point out the difference between real conviction, and fuch occasional fears as never go farther than a spirit of bondage.
in support of this, you may obferve, that in scripture, those who are in a natural or unconverted state, are often described as lying in a state of ignorance or darkness. They are said to be such as know not God: “Howbeit then - when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which
by nature are no gods.”* See alfo the following defcription : “Having the understanding darkened, being " alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance " that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts.”+ Agreeably to this, the change produced in them is reprefented as giving them light or understanding, in oppofition to their former ignorance ; " to open their eyes, and “ to turn them from darknefs to light, and from the power " of Satan unto God. I But if our gospel be hid, it is hid “ to them that are loft, in whom the god of this world hath “ blinded the minds of them which believe not, left the
light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image " of God, frould shine unto them. For God, who com“ manded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined “ in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the
glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”|| In this way is the inatter represented in fcripture, much more frequenily than is commonly observed; and, as the understanding is the leading faculty in our nature, it is but reasonable to fuppose that the change should begin there, by
* Gl. iv. 8. † Eph. iv, 18.
Als xxvi. 18.
Il 2 Cor. iv. 4, 6.