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THAT YE PUT OFF, CONCERNING THE FORMER CONVERSATION, THE
EPHESIANS IV. 22-24.
IN the last Discourse I described the situation and conduct of a convinced sinner. It is now my intention to exhibit the conversion of the same sinner to God: or to exhibit what in that Discourse I called the attendants of regeneration.
In the text, connected with the 17th verse, the Ephesians are commanded to put off the old man with his deeds, and to put on the new man;' or, in a more strict accordance with the original language, to cast away the old, and be clothed with the new man.' It has been supposed that the passage contains an allusion to the conduct of the new converts at their baptism; who are said at this ordinance to have cast away their old garments, as a symbol of their renunciation of sin, and to have been clothed with new ones, as a token of their assumption of holiness. It has also been supposed, that the
apostle alludes to the custom of actors, who changed their clothes whenever they changed their characters. The allusion is, however, so natural and familiar, that it seems unnecessary to look far for an explanation.
To put off the old man,' and to put on the new man,' are in the text exhibited as equivalent to being renewed in the spirit of their mind,' that is, to being the subjects of regeneration. This doctrine is still farther illustrated in the declarations, that the old man is corrupt,' and that the new man is created, after God, in righteousness and true holiness.' That to renounce the former of these characters and to assume the latter, is the same thing with being regenerated, no person probably, who is acquainted with this subject, will dispute.
Under these two heads, then, I shall now consider the farther progress of this convinced sinner; viz.
I. His renunciation of sin.
II. His assumption of holiness, as his future character. As these co-exist in the mind, it will be unnecessary to consider them apart.
When the convinced sinner has, by a succession of earnest efforts to save himself, proved his utter inability to accomplish this important work; the next natural step, and that which he then becomes convinced it is absolutely necessary for him to take, is to cast himself wholly upon God. He sees himself perfectly helpless; and, if left to himself, utterly ruined. In the anguish of mind produced by this view of his situation, he casts himself at the footstool of divine mercy, as a mere suppliant, as devoid of any recommendation to the favour of God, as a ruined, miserable creature, as justly condemned, as justly to be punished, as having no hope, but in mere forgiveness, as desiring salvation of mere grace and sovereign love, as without any power of atoning for his sins by any thing which. he can do, as capable of being saved only on account of the atonement of Christ, and as incapable of renewing himself or of being renewed but by the power of Holy Ghost. All these things are felt, and not merely understood; not merely considered as being proved, or capable of proof by sound argument. The several trials which the mind has made have of themselves become proofs of the highest kind, to which it now opposes neither objection nor doubt. Its views have
been too clear to be denied or questioned; and the frame of the mind, its anxiety and distress, renders it even impatient of the suggestion of uncertainty.
Self-righteousness is therefore now relinquished. The pride of saving himself, either wholly or partially, is now given up, and the sinner is humbly and easily satisfied to be saved by Christ. To his atonement, to his infinite compassion, he looks for the aid which, though felt before to be unnecessary, he now regards as absolutely and infinitely necessary to prevent him from being lost.
When the sinner has come to this state of views and disposition, God in his infinite mercy usually, perhaps always, communicates to him the new heart, the right spirit,' so often mentioned in the Scriptures.
It will here be useful, and probably necessary, to guard the minds of those who hear me against a common and very natural error concerning this important subject.
It has often been supposed that in some part, or in the whole, of that process of the mind which has been here described, there is something done of a meritorious nature; something so pleasing to God, that on account of it he bestows this incomprehensible blessing. In my own view this opinion is wholly unscriptural, and altogether dangerous. If God gives the virtuous disposition intended, then it did not exist in the mind before it was thus given; and, as this disposition is the only source of virtuous action in the mind, it is perfectly clear that there can be no such action before it is communicated. That God does in fact give it by his Spirit has, I trust, been heretofore proved. Antecedently to regeneration then, there is no virtuous action in the mind, in the true and evangelical sense; unless we are to suppose two distinct sources of virtue, and two different kinds of virtuous .action.
It will, here, be naturally asked, What, then, is the true nature of this subject? What is the use of Conviction of sin? Why does God communicate such a disposition to such sinners, as are effectually convinced of their sins, rather than to any others?
In answer to these reasonable questions I observe, that the use of such conviction is to bring the sinner to a just view of his own condition and character, as a sinner; of the cha
racter of God, as his Sovereign; of the divine law, as the rule of his conduct; of the character of Christ, as his Saviour; of the absolute necessity of an interest in his redemption for the attainment of salvation; and of the excellency and importance of holiness, in all its branches, as a moral character indispensable to entitle him to the favour and approbation of God. Without these apprehensions it would be very difficult to conceive how a sinner could become the subject of those exercises, which belong to the nature of conversion to God. For example: How can the sinner who does not clearly see the evil, odiousness, and malignity of sin, ever be supposed to hate sin, mourn for it, or abstain from it in future periods? How, unless he discern the excellency and obligation of the law as a rule of duty for himself, can he discern either the guilt of his transgressions, or the necessity and value of his future obedience? How, unless he be fully convinced of the justice and glory of God in hating, and condemning sin, can he acknowledge God to be a reasonable or righteous Sovereign? And how can he ingenuously and voluntarily turn to him at all? Finally, if he do not perceive his own helplessness, and his insufficiency to save himself, how can he betake himself at all to him for salvation? How, if he does not realize the fitness of Christ to be trusted with his soul, and all its concerns, as able,' willing, and faithful to save to the uttermost all that will come unto God by him,' can he believe on him or trust in him for these infinite blessings?
When God bestows the new disposition on the sinner in the state above described, rather than in his ordinary state, he does this, I apprehend, not because the sinner has merited this blessing, or any other, at his hands; but because he has now become possessed of such a character and such views as render the communication of it fit and proper in itself. God never extends mercy to sinners because of their desert, or worth, but because they need his mercy. When he sent his Son into the world, to save the apostate race of Adam, it was not because these apostates had merited, but because they needed, such kindness at his hands. It was a mere act of grace, of free, sovereign love. The communication of it was not a reward conferred on worth, for they plainly had none;
been too clear i
the mind, its a
he I ver
and distress. was lost;' and' to call, not repentance.' The father in e prodigal into his family and rvice which he had rendered, for an account of the misery and ruin y with his own compassion. Such of every convicted sinner, when he Je renewing grace of God. reason why such sinners are made the
when they have arrived at a complete Auger, and dependance on God for sancrance, rather than while they were at ease sted in their rebellion. In the latter situaey unprepared either to feel or understand exteut of the divine goodness in bestowing and of course to be thankful, obedient, hum
ily virtuous to that degree which is necessary cual preparation for heaven, and which seems being accomplished in any other manner than this ve described. A deliverance is both understood ..oportion to the greatness of the sense which the Severed has had of his danger. A new moral characecomed in proportion to the feelings which have been ced in the debasement and disadvantages of the chapreviously existing. Universally every benefit is rea
proportion to the sense of our own necessity. Thus, de sense of his guilt, danger, and need of salvation, expecaced, under the conviction of his sin, the sinner is prepared with the utmost advantage to receive his sanctification, justification, and final deliverance from eternal ruin. This is what I call the fitness of the sinner for the reception of these benefix; a fitness which seems indispensable; appearing plainly. to render it proper that God should give these blessings to a convinced sinner, when it would be wholly improper to give them to the same sinner while unconvinced and insensible. Homofits are wisely conferred on those who are fitted thotoughly to understand, feel, and acknowledge them; and unwisely on those who are not; whose views are obscure, whose Qolings are blunt, and whose acknowledgments, if made at