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Now what can feeble mortals do to such ? We can exhibit divine things before them ; we can expose the horrid deformity of sin, and its tremendous consequences ; we can display the glories of God, the beauty of holiness, and the allurements of redeeming love ; but, alas ! all this is but like exposing colours to the blind. We cannot open their eyes ; we cannot communicate such views of things to their minds as are in any measure adequate to the things themselves. What can tender arguments avail to break hearts of stone? What signifies reasoning to govern headstrong obstinacy, which regards it no more than a whirlwind ? What can persuasions do to extirpate inveterate, implacable enmity ? Rom. viii. 7. What can the charms of eloquence do to charm deaf adders that stop their ears ? Psalm lviii. 4. The Israelites might as well pretend to overthrow the walls of Jericho with the sound of rams' horns, as we with our feeble breath to overthrow the strong holds of Satan in the hearts of sinners! It is the divine agency alone that gives the success in both cases. Clay cannot open the eyes of the blind, except in his almighty hands, who could form a world out of nothing, and who can work without or against means as easily as with them.
The scripture representations of the degeneracy of mankind are confirmed by universal experience. If we form any observations of ourselves or others, we find that the whole bent of our souls by nature is contrary to the gospel. The gospel is designed to reclaim men from sin ; but they are obstinately set upon it ; it is designed to make sin bitter to them, and to dissolve their hearts into tender sorrows for it ; but we naturally delight in sin, and our hearts are hard as the nether mill-stone : it is intended to bring apostate rebels back to God, and the universal practice of holiness ; but we love estrangement from him, and have no inclination to return. We abhor the ways of strict holiness, and . choose to walk in the imaginations of our own hearts. The gospel is calculated to advance the divine glory, and abash the pride of all flesh, in the scheme of salvation it reveals ; but this is directly contrary to the disposition of the sinner, who is all for his own glory. This requires no tedious arguments to prove it. Look in upon your own hearts ; look back on your own conduct ; look round you on the world ; and there the evidences of it will glare upon you.
Now, since the innate dispositions of men are thus averse to the gospel, it is evident that nothing but divine power can make it effectual for their sanctification. Instructions may furnish the head with notions, and correct speculative mistakes; but they have no power to sway the will, and sweetly allure it to holiness. Persuasions may bring men to practise what they had omitted through mistake, carelessness, or a transient dislike : but they will have no effect where the heart is full of innate enmity against the things recommended. In this case, he that planteth, and he that watereth, is nothing; it is God alone can give the increase ;) as is more than intimated by,
II. The promises and declarations of the word, which appropriate all the success of the gospel to God alone.
Jehovah is not fond of ostentation and parade, nor wasteful in throwing away his blessings where they are not needed ; and therefore if the means of grace were sufficient of themselves to convert sinners and edify believers, he would not make such magnificent promises of the supernatural aids of his grace, nor claim the efficacy of them as his own. He would not assert the insufficiency of them without his influence, nor assign the withdrawment of his grace as one cause of their unsuccessfulness. But all this he does in his word.
Notwithstanding all the miraculous as well as ordinary means of grace which the Israelites enjoyed, there was need of this divine promise, The Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul. Deut. xxx. 6. And this promise was not peculiar to the Mosaic dispensation of the covenant of grace, which was less clear and efficacious ; but we find that one superior excellency of the gospel dispensation is, that it is more abundant in such promises. It is to the gospel church that this promise is more particularly made ; Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, &c. not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt, &c.—but this is the covenant which I shall make with them ; I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, Jer. xxxi. 31, 33. Heb. viii. 8, &c.
This is a promise of so much importance, that it is frequently repeated with some circumstantial alteration, as the very life of the New Testament church. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever ; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. Jer. xxxii. 39, 40. Eze.
kiel echoes back the same language by the inspiration of the same Spirit, I will give them one heart ; and I will put a new spirit within them ; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh; and I will give them an heart of flesh; and they shall walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them. Ezek. xi. 19, 20. See also chap. xxxvi. 26, 27.
What was the success of St. Peter's sermon (Acts ii.) in the conversion of 3000, but the accomplishment of those promises in Joel and Zachariah ? - I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. (Joel ji. 28, 29.) I will pour out upon the house of David and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication, and they shall look, &c. Zach. xii. 10. These promises were substan. tially renewed by Christ, to encourage the drooping apostles, John xvi. 8, 9, 10. I will send the Spirit ; and when he is come, he will convince the world, &c. All their miraculous powers were not sufficient for the conviction of mankind, without the agency of the divine Spirit ; but by this, that promise of the Father to his Son was accomplished : Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power. Psalm cx. 3.
I might subjoin many other promises of the same kind ; but these are sufficient to shew the absolute necessity of divine influence, or the utter insufficiency of the best means without it. And what farther time might be allotted to this particular, I shall lay out upon this pertinent and useful remark, which, if rightly attended 10, would rectify mistakes, and remove many scruples and controversies upon this point. The remark is this, That the promises of God to bestow blessings upon us, do not render needless our most vigorous endeavours to obtain them; and, on the other hand, that our most vigorous endeavours do not supersede the influences of the Spirit to work in us the dispositions we are labouring after : or, That that may be consistently enjoined upon us as a duty, which is promised by God free favour; and vice versa. This may be illustrated by various instances. God commands us as strictly to circumcise the foreskins of our hearts, to make ourselves new hearts and new spirits, (Jer. iv. 4.) and to cleanse ourselves from moral pollution, (Isa. i. 16.) as if this were whol. ly our work, and he had no efficiency in it. In the mean time, he promises as absolutely to circumcise our hearts to love him, to give us new hearts, and to purge'us from all our filthiness, and from all our abominations, as though he performed all the work without our using means. Now we are sure these things are conVOL. II.
sistent ; for the sacred oracles are not a heap of contradictions. And how does their consistency appear? Why, thus : it is our duty to use the most vigorous endeavours to obtain these graces promised, because it is only in the use of vigorous endeavours that we have eason to expect divine influences. these endeavours of ours do not in the least work those graces in us, and therefore there is certainly as much need of the promised agency of divine grace to effect the work, as if we should do Dothing at all. Our utmost endeavours fall entirely short of it, and do not entitle us to divine assistance, and this we must bave an humble sense of, before we can receive the accomplishment of such promises as the effect of free grace alone. But we should continue in these endeavours, because we have no reason to hope for the accomplishment of the promises in a course of sloth and negligence. This point may be illustrated by the consistency of the use of means and the agency of providence in the natural world. God has peremptorily promised, that while the earth re. maineth seed-time and harvest shall not rease, Gen. viii. 22. But this promise does not render it needless for us to cultivate the earth ; nor does all our cultivation render this promise needless : for all our labour would be in vain without the influence of divine providence : and this influence is to be expected only in the use of labour. Thus, in the moral world, the efficacy belongs to God, as much as if we made no use of means at all ; and the most vigorous endeavours are as much our duty, as if we could effect the work ourselves, and he had no special hand in it. Were this remark attended to, it would guard us against the pernicious extremes of turning the grace of God into wantonness, and pleading it as an excuse for our idleness ; and of self-righteousness, and depending upon our own endeavours. In this guarded manner does St. Paul handle this point: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling ; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure. Phil. ii. 12, 13. But to return : As we may infer the necessity of divine influences from the promises of God, so
We may infer the same thing from the many passages of sacred writ ascribing the success of the gospel upon sinners, and even upon believers, to the agency of divine grace. If even a well-disposed Lydia gives a believing attention to the things spoken by St. Paul, it is because the Lord hath opened her heart. Acts xvi. 14. Thus the Philippians believed, because, says the apostle, to you it is given on the behalf of Christ to believe, Phil.
i. 29. Thus the Ephesians were spiritually alive, because, says he, you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Eph. i. 1. Faith is not of ourselves ; but is expressly said to be the gift of God. Eph. ii. 8. Nay the implantation of faith is represented as an exploit of omnipotence, like that of the resurrection of Christ. Hence the apostle prays, Eph. i. 19, 20, that the Ephesians might be made deeply sensible of the erceeding greatne88 of his power to us-ward that believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead. Repentance is also the gift of God: Christ is exalted to bestow it. Acts v. 31. When the Jewish christians heard of the success of the gospel among the Gentiles, they unanimously ascribed it to God : then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unio life, Acts xii. 18.; and it is upon this en: couragement that St. Paul recommends the use of proper means to reclaim the obstinate : if God, peradventure, will give then repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, 2 Tim. ii, 25. Regeneration also, in which faith and repentance, and other graces are implanted, is always ascribed to God. If all things are made new, all these things are of God. 2 Cor. v. 17, 18. If, while others reject Cbrist some receive him, and so are honoured with the prive ilege of becoming the sons of God, it is not owing to themselves, but to him. . They are born, not of blood, nor of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God. John i. 11, 12, 13. He begets such of his own sovereign will by the word of truth, James i. 18. and every good and perfect gift with which they are endowed is not from themselves, but from above, and comethi down from the Father of lights, who is the great origin of all moral excellency, as the sun is of light. ver. 17. Hence this change is expressed by such terms as denote the divine agency, and exclude that of the creature ; as a new birth, John iii. 3. a new creation, 2 Cor. v. 17. Col. iii. 10. the workmanship of God created in Christ Jesus, Eph. ii. 10. a resurrection from the dead, John v. 25. Eph. ii. 1. Col. iï. 1. Now it is lbe greatest absurd. ity to speak of a man's begetting or creating himself, or raising himself from the dead. . Thus we find that the first implantation of grace in the heart of a sinner is entirely the work of God; and, lest we should suppose that, when it is once implanted, it can flourish and grow without the influence of heaven, we find that the progress of sanctification in believers is ascribed to God, as well as their first conversion. David was sensible after all his attainments, that he could not run the way of God's command.