« PreviousContinue »
would farther ask them, Whether hath God of the world moft of your love, moft of your thoughts, and most of your care? Can such of you pretend this, whose eager, ardent, nightly thought, and daily pleasure, is only to increase your substance ? who would not go to market without re-examining your transactions, and computing your gain ; but can daily go to the house of God, without observing, enquiring af ter, or desiring to see its proper fruits ? Can such of you pretend this, to whom all serious conversation is tedious and disgustful, and the society of good men a painful restraint ? to whom the fabbath is a dull, melancholy, and burdensome season? Oh, my brethren, let me beseech you to be faithful to your own souls. Your precious time is daily hastening on; the day of your merciful visitation is wearing fast away. Hear while there is yet peace, and intreat that God, s for Christ's sake, would 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 enjoyment in heaven. .
Thus I have explained at confiderable 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 viles to preserve you from sin, and excite you to diligence in every part of your duty, that it may be more and more manifeft. At the same time, it will be of the greatest service, in the use and application of other figns of real religion, by shewing when they are conclufive, and when they are not
C H A P.
CHA P. III.
Of the steps by which this change is accomplished.
TE 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 precise, and at the same time, in a cautious and guarded manner. It is often complained of in those who write on this fubject, that they confine and limit the HOLY ONE, and that they give unnecessary alarms to those who have not had experience of every par. ticular which they think proper to mention. There is no doubt but God acts in an * absolute and sovereign manner in the dispensation of his
• It will be proper to inform the reader, that the word "abe « folate ned 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, acts without any reason at all. To say this of the divine procedure, would be little less than blasphemy. When we say that God aets“ in an absolute u and sovereign manner,” the meaning is, that he acts upon the best and strongest reasons, and for the nobleft and most excellent ends ; but which are many or most of them beyond our seach and comprehenfion; and particularly, that there is not the least foundation for supposing that the reasons of preference are taken frem comparative human merito
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 “ listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, “ bụt canst not tell whence it cometh, and whi " ther 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 fometimes glorifies his power and mercy at once, by converting his moft inveterate enemies, and making them the most zealous, active, and successful advocates for his cause. Such an instance was the apostle Paul, who from a perfecutor became a preacher. Some. times conversion is speedily and suddenly brought about, and the times and circumstances of the change may be easily ascertained. This was the case with the jailor recorded in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The same may be faid of the apostle Paul; and there have been particular examples of it in every age. Some. * John iii. 8.'
times, 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 fignal and fenfible, the growth and improvement of the spiriritual life speedy and remarkable, the greatest finners becoming the most eminent saints ; like the woman mentioned in the gospel, to whom many fins 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 distres