« PreviousContinue »
is neceffary, in order to any genuine, salutary convictions of sin. What is it elle but a discovery of the spotless holiness, the perfect excellence, and infinite amiableness of the divine nature, that humbles a finner under a fenfe of his breaches of the divine law? Without this, there may be a fenfe of weakness and fubjection, but never a fenfe of duty and obligation. Without this there may be a fear of wrath, but there cannot be a hatred of fin.
This seems directly to lead to the next great step in a faving change, viz, a conviction of fin and misery. But before we proceed to point out the progress of conviétion, it will not be improper to take notice of a few truths which result from what hath been already faid. This is the more necessary, that erroneous or defective views of religion are commonly occasioned by some miflake in the foundation.
1. The necessity of regeneration itself appears with peculiar force, from what hath been said on this part of the
fubject. There must be a real inward change of heart, s before there can be any true religion. If the moral excel. ·lence of the divine nature must be discovered, if God
must be seen as glorious in his holiness, the heart and
temper must be changed as well as the life. Nothing is *** more plain from the holy scriptures, than that “the natu
“ ral man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;" and it is equally plain from experience and the nature of the thing. While men continue in the love of fin, it is impossible that they should see the beauty of infinite holi
ness. So long as they love sin, they must hate holiness, ; which is its opposite, and not less contrary to it than light
is to darkness. Therefore, all restraint upon our outward conversation, all zeal and diligence in expensive rites and ceremonies; all duties of whatever kind that arise from fear, or other external motives, are of no consequence, till the temper and inclination of the heart is entirely renewed.
2. From what hath been said, we may plainly per. ceive, that regeneration from first to last must be ascribed to the agency of the Holy Ghoft. It must be the effect of divine grace, and the work of sovereign power. Let not
any creature be unwilling to stand indebted for his new creation to the Author of his first being ; " for of him, “ and through him, and to him, are all things*.” While man is in his natural state, he is an enemy to God in his mind by wicked works. The discoveries that are made to him of the real nature of God in his works and in his word, while he continues in this disposition, are not amiable but hateful. Nay, he is so far from loving him as his father, that he fears him as his enemy. This fear will difcover itself one of these two ways. Sometimes it will make the finner fly from God, cast instruction behind his back, and increase unto more ungodliness, till natural conscience is feared and insensible. How many there are of this kind, whom one crime only precipitates into ano. ther, experience is a melancholy proof. It is worth while at the same time to observe what intimations are given us in scripture, that this is the first and natural effect of fin upon all, to drive them at a further distance from God. Two instances of this have been given above. Our first parents no sooner sinned, than they fled and hid them. felves when they heard God's voice in the garden, as im. patient of his approach. A similar reflection we see in the apostle Peter, on being witness to an extraordinary effect of his Saviour's divine power : “ And when Siinon Peter « faw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart “ from me, for I am a finful man, OʻLordf.” See another instance of the same kind. " And the whole multi. "tude of the country of the Gadarenes round about, be
fought him to depart from them, for they were taken “ with great fear. I”
Another common effect of this natural fear, in fome şefpects contrary to the former, is to dispose men to per, form some constrained and hypocritical services, in order to avoid punishment. This is defcribed in the temper and conduct of the children of Israel, as represented by the Psalmist ; “ When he flew them, then they fought him ; " they returned, and enquired early after God. And " they remembered that God was their rock, and the high
• Rom. xi. 36.
# Loke v, 8
Luke viije 37
“God their redeemer. Nevertherless they did flatter him
Love cannot be forced, or rather to speak more properly, forced love is not love at all. In a word, it is our indispensible duty to attend to every dictate of conscience, and to follow it so far as it goes; but I cannot help thinking, that for a sinner truly and sincerely to desire a change of nature, would be an evidence of a change begun. Therefore, till a finner get a supernatural illumination, he can never see the glory and beauty of the divine character. Before this, he may seek to propitiate God's favor, he may wish to avoid his wrath ; he may desire a change in God for his own safety, but he cannot be satisfied with him as he really is. It must be the same almighty power, which brought the world out of nothing intobeing, that must bring back the sinner from his rebellion and apostacy, according to that promise, evidently applicable to the Saviour ; " Thy people shall be " willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of ho* liness.”+ Neither is the same thing less clearly afferted in the New Testament; “ For it is God which worketh " in you, both to will and to do of his good pleafure.”I
3. Hence we may see wherein lies the fundamental elfential difference between common or imperfect convictions, and the effectual sanctifying and saving influences of the Holy Ghost. The first arise from a view of the natural perfections of God, from a belief of his power and se. verity, without any discovery of his righteousness and glory. Therefore, however great a length they may pro
ceed, however different or opposite their effccts may be, they never produce any real change in the heart. It is of great consequence to attend to this important distinction; for though imperfect convictions sometimes are entirely effaced, and are followed by no lasting effect at all, yet it is often otherwise. They frequently produce a counterfeit religion, which not only continues for a time, but is carried down by fome to the grave as a lie in their right-hand. So subtle are the deceits of satan, that there are many hollow forms of religion, not only upon a legal, but an evangelical bottom. I fhall give the reader a sketch of the principles and outlines of both,
There are some legal hypocrites. Awakened to a sense of their danger merely from the irrefiftable power of God, they fall to the exercise of repentance, and hope that by fo doing they may live. Hence the whole fystem of bodily penance and mortification. Hence also so strong an attachment, in some worldly perfons, to the external forms of religion, and veneration for the places of divine worship. Being now somewhat more regular and decent in their ordinary carriage than before, they entertain a fond hope that all shall be well. In the mean time, they are so far from being restored to the image of God, or being governed by his love, that all this is a burden to them; and in. deed it is because it is a burden, that they are so prone to think it meritorious. Conscience checks them, and they dare not run to the same excess with others, or even repeat what they themselves did formerly; and by this comparifon, cannot help thinking they are in a hopeful way. But did such persons reflect a little on the nature of God, they would see their error. They would learn, that they are fo far from being renewed in the spirit of their minds, that whatever lengths they go, they are dragged or driven against their will; and whenever they can find a plausible excuse, they are ready to withdraw their neck from the yoke. A just view of the glory of God, and the obligation upon every rational creature to love and imitate him, would effectually cure them of all felf-righteoufness and felf-dependance; would lead them to himself and the grace treasured up in his Son, to “work in them the
" whole good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of “ faith with power.”
On the other hand, there are evangelical hypocrites. These begin upon the same principles, and their views have the same radical defect with the former. They are awakened to a sense of danger, and sometimes made to tremble through fear of divine judgments, but without any discovery of the glory and amiableness of the divine nature. If such persons happen to live in a family or congregation, where they hear much of the doctrine of redemption, it may have its place in their scheme. They may be so convinced of their own manifold tranfgreffions, as to be satisfied to throw their guilt upon the surety, and, rely on the sufferings and death of Christ
, for deliverance from the wrath of an offended God. Nay, I have not the leaft doubt that some may, by a confident presumption, imitate the faith of God's elect, and believe that Chrift died for themselves in particular. So long as this persuasion can maintain its ground, it may, and must give them great joy and satisfaction. Who would not find consolation in thinking themselves in fafety from divine wrath ? Yet all this while they never fee the evil of fin in itself, as an opposition to the nature, and a breach of the law of God. They are never brought to love an infinitely holy God in fineerity of heart. They may love him, because they suppose themselves the peculiar objects of his love, with some obscure, confused, sensual idea of the de. lights of heaven; but they know not or consider not, the nature of that salvation he hath provided for his chosen.
All such love, it is plain, ariseth from a falfe confidence in their own state, and not from a true knowledge of God. Their notions of God's love to them contain more of a partial indulgence to them as they are, than of his infinite compaffion in forgiving what they have been. The effects of such religion are just what might be expected from its nature, violent and passionate for a season, and commonly ostentatious, but temporary and changeable. Selflove lies at the root, and therefore, while they are pleafed and gratified, they will continue their profession of attachment; but when felf-denial or bearing the cross is re