Page images
PDF
EPUB

danger of eternal condemnation? We cannot pretend to count 'the number on either side. But it may reasonably be concluded from the state of human nature, that self confidence and carnal security abound a great deal more with the most careless sinners, than with those who discoyer a solici, tude about their salvation.

It is natural for men to trust to themselves, that they are righteous, or that they have it in their power to acquire, when they please, what is wanting to their eternal security: How is this confidence in our own righteousness, or in our own powers, to be counteracted? Surely the word of God is the most effectual, or rather the only means, to give men just views of their real state. Those therefore, who are most conversant with the word of God, are most likely to know what sort of persons they are. Every part of it is full of convincing arguments of the badness of the state of unregenerate sinners.

When men neglect the means of grace, they have a teacher at home who tells them that they are, perhaps, not quite so good as they should be, but that they have many good things to plead in their own favor. This pleasing doctrine gains an easy belief, because there is no voice to contradict it. Their consciences may sometimes be awakened to remonstrate, but they will not speak with a loud voice, or give a certain sound, because they are not enlightened by the word of God. It is no less natural for those who diligently attend the means of grace to flatter themselves; but they live within the sound of a voice which is often crying in their ears, “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “Cursed are they that are of the works of the law."

This indeed is one of the great advantäges which unregenerate persons derive, or may derive, from the diligent use of the means of grace. “Whatsoever doth make manifest, is light.” The word of God is that light which manifests men to themselves. Those who will not come to the light, “flatter themselves in their own eyes, till their iniquity is found at last to be hateful,” when the knowlege of it comes too late. Those who come near the light, are likely sooner to discover what they are, and whose they are, and what is still wanting in them.

Careless sinners know not how unfit they are for doing those things which they have never attempted. They hear of the deplorable corruption of human nature; but they believe not, or do not consider what they hear.

We find that after all that Scripture says, and all that philosophers or men of experience say of the vanity of the world, few will believe that happiness is not to be found in present things till they have tried it. Those men will not be persuaded that they cannot believe, by their own powers; that they cannot repent; that they cannot pray, till by frequent experiments they obtain a powerful conviction of their weakness. And who are they who obtain this experimental conviction ? The answer is easy. The Spirit of God can work this conviction in any man as speedily as he pleases; and without the convincing operation of the Spirit, experience itself will leave men unconvinced. But the Spirit of God deals with us as rational creatures. He makes us not only to see, but to feel our weakness, that we may place the glory of our strength in God alone.

Another objection to the doctrine in question is, that the best works of natural men are sinful, not excepting their most ardent prayers, and their most earnest endeavors to turn to God. How then can they be of any use to the doers of them ?

The Scripture, it must be allowed, teaches us that we are all as an unclean thing; that much sin cleaves to the best works of the best men; and that there is no real holiness in the best works of unregenerate persons.The flesh lusting against the spirit in the saints, sullies their best works; but in sinners there is nothing but flesh, in which there dwells no good thing, and by which nothing spiritually good can be performed. “To

the defiled and the unbelieving, there is no. thing pure, but their very mind and conscience is defiled."

If the inference drawn from this consideration be, that sinners ought to place no dependence on any thing they have ever done, or may resolve to do, we allow that it is perfectly just. Woe to the man whose hope is placed in an heart that is deceitful above all things.' We must be abhorred of the Lord, if we presume to hope for his favor, as the recompense of works proceeding from a heart wholly depraved by sin, Prov. xv. 29.

But it must be allowed that all the work's of unregenerate men are not equally sinful. When Ahab clothed himself with sackcloth, and walked softly under a sense of divine wrath, the Lord said unto Elijah, “Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself? I will not bring my wrath upon his house in his own days, but in his sons days.” If Ahab had shewed a haughty contempt of the prophet's threatening, would God have spoken such words?

The king's repentance was not of a godly sort. He mourned for his sin; not for the offence given to God, but for the damage done to himself and to his house.

Had he repented of his sin from a gracious principle, Jeze. bel would no longer have been able to hold him in her chains. Like penitent Manasseh, he would have endeavored to undo all that ever he had done for the service of Baal. It

is too plain that he was still the same man on the whole that he had formerly been; and yet his humiliation obtained from God the lengthening of his tranquuity, 1 Kings xxi

Jehoahaz prayed unto the Lord when he saw the misery of Israel; and the Lord heard him, and raised up a saviour for Israel. Of the same Jehoahaz we are told, that he turned not all his days from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. Why then did he pray to the God of Israel for help in the distress of his people? He was moved with a tender concern for his people. He was deeply grieved for the affliction of Joseph. He was sensible that no help could be found in idols, or in the arm of flesh, and therefore he prayed earnestly to the God of Jacob, and his prayer was heard. Compare his conduct with that of Abaz, king of Judah. In his distresses he sought not unto the Lord. When the prophet Isaiah offered him a sign, either in the depths below, or in the heights above, he would not tempt the Lord his God. He expected no help from him. He valued no promises but the promises of the king of Assyria. He did not seek the God of his father Jotham, who waxed mighty because he trusted in the Lord, but the gods of Syria that were not able to protect their own country from the arms of his powerful ally and tyrant. “Ahaz, in the time of his distress, trespassed yet more against the Lord. This

« PreviousContinue »