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cries out with importunate anguish, God be merciful to me a sinner.'
But he cannot be prevented from praying. His cries for mercy, and those at times involuntary and ejaculatory, are forced from him by the sense of his guilt, and his fears of perdition. They often break out in his walks, in the course of his daily employments, and in his occasional journeyings; they spring from his meditations; they ascend from his pillow. The question, whether a sinner shall be directed to pray, has become nugatory to him; and has been decided, not by metaphysical disquisition, but by the controlling anguish of his heart.
During this season of struggling for salvation, it is no unfrequent thing for his despondency to continue, to return at intervals with more weight, and to sink him deeper in distress; according to the different states of his mind, and the nature of the different subjects which occupy his thoughts.
It is all along to be kept in view that, as I have heretofore remarked, this state of things is very different in different persons; varying almost endlessly in manner and degree; in some instances comparatively calm, quiet, and of an even tenour; in others disturbed, distressed, and tumultuous. Still it is also to be remembered that substantially it is the same.
During this state of mind, it is farther to be observed, the sinner forsakes, of course, many of his former favourite objects, especially his diversions, his gaiety, his loose companions, and his haunts of sin. These he now perceives and feels to be the seats and sources of temptation, danger, and sorrow. Hence he shuns them with vigilant care and lively dread, not from virtuous motives, but from the fear of rendering his case more dreadful and hopeless.
But none of his efforts give him rest. Neither his affections, desires, nor labours are virtuous in the evangelical sense, or commendable in the sight of God. His sense of danger only, and his apprehension of the inestimable importance of escaping, originally asleep or dead, is now alive and awake. This feeling, and its necessary effects, constitute the only change in his condition. No real goodness, no moral excellence, nothing really acceptable to God, is yet begun in his mind, or supposed to be begun. To be sensible that we are sinners is not the result of virtue. There is no real goodness in being
afraid of the anger of God. There is not necessarily any thing holy in acknowledging that God is just in inflicting punishment which has been deserved. These things may all exist without any hatred of sin, any love to God, or any faith in the Redeemer.
The prayers which he daily offers up to his Maker are not the offspring of piety, but of terror. The child who sees the rod brought out to view, and beholds correction at the door, is ever ready to supplicate for pity and forgiveness, and to promise whatever may contribute to his escape from the impending danger. Yet he is not of course a dutiful child.
Still these efforts of the sinner are useful to him. No unregenerated man was probably ever convinced, except by trying his own strength, that he was unable of himself to perform virtuous actions, to pray, to serve, and to glorify God; unable, I mean, in this sense, that he has no heart, no inclination, to perform these duties; and that he will never possess a better disposition, but by the renovating agency of the Spirit of God. The more he labours, however, the more clearly he will perceive his services to be all essentially defective, and really sinful. The more he prays, the more unworthy he pronounces his prayers. An unconvinced sinner always believes that he can pray in a manner acceptable to God; a convinced sinner readily declares, that he cannot pray in a manner acceptable, not to God, but even to himself.
In the struggle thus continued, and thus earnestly conducted, he learns how obstinate his sinful dispositions are, and with what hopeless difficulty they are to be overcome. Convinced at length that all his efforts must, without the immediate assistance of God, prove entirely vain, he cast off all his dependence on himself, and turns his eyes to God with the feelings of Peter when beginning to sink, and cries out in his language, Lord save me, or I perish!'
1. From these observations we learn the use and influence of the law of God in promoting the work of conversion.
The Law evidently begins this work in the soul; or, perhaps, in more accurate language, it begins and produces that
state of thought and affection in which the Soul is usually turned to God. Without the terrors of the law' this state of mind would manifestly never be produced, unless the whole tenour of divine providence should be changed. Yet this, so far as we can see, is a natural and necessary pre-requisite to conversion. The sinner entirely needs thus to understand and feel his condition; his guilt, his danger, his helplessness, and his absolute necessity of being renewed by the Spirit of grace. By the law alone is he enabled clearly to see and strongly to feel these interesting things. From the same source of instruction he learns the true nature of his own efforts; for it is by a comparison of them with this standard of perfection that he sees how destitute they are of all real holiness, and how unavailing to recommend him to God. In a word, from the law only does he gain the knowledge that he is spiritually 'sick,' and stands in infinite need of the divine physician.'
2. These observations also teach us the necessity as well as usefulness of that preaching which explains and enforces the nature of the law..
It is not unfrequent to hear both preachers themselves, and many other persons, condemn the preaching of the law. These persons dwell much on the endearing benevolence of the Gospel, the riches of the divine goodness displayed in it, and the importance and wisdom of winning sinners to embrace it. On the other hand, they censure with no small severity the preaching of the law, and those who in this manner attempt to alarm sinners concerning their moral condition. If the things which have been said in this Discourse, are admitted to be just, it must also be admitted that these persons know very little of the important subjects which they handle in this free and unhappy manner. They must plainly be ignorant of the nature both of the law and the Gospel, of the sinner's danger, and guilt, the means of his deliverance, the nature of both conviction and conversion, the use of convictions towards conversion, and the use of the law in exciting them.
It has I trust been clearly shown, that the law is absolutely necessary to rouse the sinner from his sleep of death, to point out to him his danger, and to induce him to seek for relief. To the necessity of the law for this purpose, the necessity of preaching it is exactly proportioned. Nothing else will ac
complish the end. So long as this is kept out of view, other things will only sooth the sinner. If he views God as merciful without any regard to his justice, as forgiving without solid reasons, without an atonement, and without the application of that atonement to himself, he will be fearfully deceived; and trust in that mercy on terms and with views agreeably to which it can never be exercised.
This method of decrying the divine law and the preaching of it, is a dangerous method of flattering sinners to destruction, and of sewing pillows under all arm-holes.'
Christ, the prophets, and the apostles acted in a very different manner. They stung sinners to the quick; ' pricked them to the heart' with strong, solemn, and affecting representations of their guilt, their danger, and their approaching damnation ; roused them from their slumbers, and forced them to listen, feel, and act.
The nature of the case shows the reasonableness and excellency of their example, and the propriety and wisdom of following it; while, at the same time, it holds out the folly of those who disuse, as well as those who censure, preaching of this nature. We need not be at all afraid lest sinners in modern times should be more easily affected than they were in ancient times. Their hearts are by no means peculiarly tender; but, like the hearts of those who lived in former days, resemble the rock,' and need both the fire and the hammer,' to break them in pieces.
Some persons are probably afraid to preach in this manner, lest they should give pain to their hearers, and hazard their own popularity. These men either destroy or prevent much good, by standing in the place of such preachers as, like Boanerges, would thunder an alarm in the ears of sleeping guilt, and rouse the torpid soul to a sense of its danger.
3. From these observations we also learn the necessity of the Gospel to the accomplishment of this great work.
If the sinner were left wholly to the law he would sink and die; for it gives him neither encouragement nor hope. While the law is of mighty and indispensable use, to rouse him from his sloth, and awaken him to vigorous exertions for his deliverance, the Gospel is the only foundation of hope that these exertions will be of any use. Without this hope he would do
nothing but despair. It is indispensable, therefore, that the Gospel should follow the law in all sound preaching; that, when the sinner is roused to inquire what he should do to be saved,' he may find encouragement in its glorious promises and invitations. In this manner he learns, on the one hand, his ruined condition by nature and by practice; and, on the other, that safe and happy state, into which he may be introduced by the grace of God. Thus the adaptation and utility of the whole word of God to the purposes designed by it, are strongly manifest; the wisdom of all things contained in it, as the word of life; their excellency, their glory, and their resemblance to its Author. Thus also it is commended to our study, contemplation, wonder, and praise.