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the law wrought on the heart, well preparing the way for solid comfort; not considering that terror, and a conviction of conscience, are different things. For though convictions of conscience often cause terror; yet they do not consist in it; and terrors often arise from other causes. Convictions of conscience, through the influences of God's Spirit, consist in conviction of sinfulness in heart and practice, and of the dreadfulness of sin, as committed against a God of terrible majesty, infinite holiness and hatred of sin, and strict justice in punishing of it. But some persons have frightful apprehensions of hell-a dreadful pit ready to swallow them up, flames just ready to lay hold of them, and devils all around ready to seize them-who at the same time seem to have very little proper light of conscience, really convincing them of their sinfulness of heart and life. The devil, if permitted, can terrify men as well as the Spirit of God. It is a work natural to him, and he has many ways of doing it in a manner tending to no good. He may exceedingly affright persons by impressing on them many external images and doleful ideas; as of a countenance frowning, a sword drawn, black clouds of vengeance, words of an awful doom pronounced,* hell gaping, devils coming, and the like-not in order to convince persons of things that are true, and revealed in the word of God, but, to lead them to vain and groundless determinations; as that their day is past, that they are reprobated, that God is implacable, that he has come to a resolution immediately to cut them off, &c.
And the terrors of some persons are very much owing to their particular constitution and temper. Nothing is more manifest, than that some persons are of such a temper and frame, that their imaginations are strongly impressed with every thing they are affected with; and the impression on the imagination re-acts on the affection, and raises that still higher. Affection and imagination act reciprocally one on another, till their affection is raised to a vast height; so the person is swallowed up, and loses all possession of himself.t
Some speak of a great sight they have of their wickedness, who, really, when the matter comes to be well examined, are found to have little or no convictions of conscience. They speak of a
"The way of the Spirit's working, when it does convince men, is by enlightening natural conscience. The Spirit does not work by giving a testimony, but by assisting natural conscience to do its work. Natural conscience is the instrument in the hand of God, to accuse, condemn, terrify, and to urge to duty. The spirit of God leads men into the consideration of their danger, and makes them to be affected therewith, Prov. xx. 27. The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly." STODDARD'S Guide to Christ, page 44.
The famous Mr. PERKINS distinguishes between "those sorrows that come through convictions of conscience, and melancholic passions arising only from mere imaginations, strongly conceived in the brain; which he says, usually come on a sudden, like lightning into a house." Vol. i. of his works, page 385.
dreadful hard heart, and how it lies like a stone; when truly they have none of those things in their minds or thoughts, wherein the hardness of their heart really consists. They speak of a dreadful load and sink of sin, a heap of black and loathsome filthiness within them; when, if the matter be carefully inquired into, they have not in view any thing wherein the corruption of nature does truly consist. Nor have they any thought of particular things wherein their hearts are sinfully defective, or fall short of what ought to be in them. And many think they have great convictions of their actual sins, who truly have none. They tell you how their sins are set in order before them, they see them stand encompassing them round, with a frightful appearance; when really they are not affected with the aggravations of any one of their sins.
And if persons have had great terrors which really have been from the awakening and convincing influences of the Spirit of God, it doth not thence follow that their terrors must needs issue in true comfort. The unmortified corruption of the heart may quench the Spirit of God, (after he has been striving,) by leading men to presumptuous, and self-exalting hopes and joys, as well as otherwise. It is not every woman who is really in travail, that brings forth a real child; but it may be a monstrous production, without the form or properties of human nature. Pharaoh's chief baker, after he had lain in the dungeon with Joseph, had a vision that raised his hopes, and he was lifted up out of the dungeon, as well as the chief butler; but it was to be hanged.
But if comforts and joys not only come after great terrors and awakenings, but with an appearance of such preparatory convictions and humiliations, and brought about very distinctly, by such steps and in such a method, as has frequently been observable in true converts; this is no certain sign that the light and comforts which follow are true and saving; for these following rea
First, As the devil can counterfeit all the saving operations and graces of the Spirit of God, so he can counterfeit those operations that are preparatory to grace. If Satan can counterfeit those effects of God's Spirit which are special, divine, and sanctifying; so that there shall be a very great resemblance, in all that can be observed by others; much more easily may he imitate those works of God's Spirit which are common, and of which men, while they are yet his own children, are the subjects. These works are in no wise so much above him as the other. There are no works of God that are so high and divine, above the powers of nature, and out of the reach of the power of all creatures, as those works of his Spirit whereby he forms the creature in his own image, and makes it to be a partaker of the divine nature. But if the
devil can be the author of such resemblances of these as have been spoken of, without doubt he may of those that are of an infinitely inferior kind. And it is abundantly evident in fact, that there are false humiliations, and false submissions, as well as false comforts*. How far was Saul brought, though a very wicked man, and of a haughty spirit, when he (though a great king) was brought, in conviction of his sin, all in tears, weeping aloud, before David his own subject-one whom he had for a long time mortally hated, and openly treated as an enemy-crying out, Thou art more righteous than I: for thou hast rewarded me good, whereas I have rewarded thee evil? And at another time, I have sinned, I have played the fool, I have erred exceedingly, 1 Sam. xxiv. 16, 17. and chap. xxvi. 21. And yet Saul seems then to have had very little of the influences of the Spirit of God, it being after God's Spirit had departed from him, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. And if this proud monarch, in a pang of affection, was brought to humble himself so low, before a subject that he hated, there doubtless may be appearances of great conviction and humiliation in men, before God, while they yet remain enemies to him, and though they finally continue so. There is oftentimes in men, who are terrified through fears of hell, a great appearance of their being brought off from their own righteousness, when they are not brought off from it in all ways. They have only exchanged some ways of trusting in their own righteousness, for others that are more secret and subtle. Oftentimes a great degree of discouragement, as to many things they used to depend upon, is taken for humiliation: and that is called a submission to God, which is no absolute submission, but has some secret bargain in it, that it is hard to discover.
Secondly, If the operations and effects of the Spirit of God, in the convictions and comforts of true converts, may be sophisticated, then the order of them may be imitated. If Satan can imitate the things themselves, he may easily put them one after another, in such a certain order. If the devil can make A, B, and C, it is as easy for him to put A first, and B next, and C next, as to range them in a contrary order. The nature of divine things is harder for the devil to imitate, than their order. He cannot exactly imitate divine operations in their nature, though his counterfeits may be very much like them in external appearance:
The venerable STODDARD observes, "A man may say, that now he can justify God however he deals with him, and not be brought off from his own righteousness ; and that some meu do justify God, from a partial conviction of the righteousness of their condemnation; conscience takes notice of their sinfulness, and tells them that they may be righteously damned; as Pharaoh, who justiñed God, Exod. ix. 27. And they give some kind of consent to it, but many times it does not continue, they have only a pang upon them, that usually dies away after a little time."--Guide to Christ, page 71.
but he can exactly imitate their order. When counterfeits are made, there is no divine power needful in order to the placing one of them first, and another last. And therefore no order or method of operations and experiences, is any certain sign of their divinity. That only is to be trusted to, as a certain evidence of grace, which Satan cannot do, and which it is impossible should be brought to pass by any power short of divine.
Thirdly, We have no certain rule to determine how far God's own Spirit may go in those operations and convictions which in themselves are not spiritual and saving. There is no necessary connexion, in the nature of things, between any thing that a natural man may experience, while in a state of nature, and the saving grace of God's Spirit. And if there be no connexion in the nature of things, then there can be no known and certain connexion at all, unless it be by divine revelation. But there is no revealed certain connexion between a state of salvation, and any thing that a natural man can be the subject of, before he believes in Christ. God has revealed no certain connexion between salvation and any qualifications in men, but only grace and its fruits. And therefore we do not find any legal convictions, or comforts following these legal convictions, in any certain method or order, ever once mentioned in the scripture, as certain signs of grace, or things peculiar to the saints; although we do find gracious operations and effects themselves so mentioned thousands of times. Which should be enough with Christians, who are willing to have the word of God, rather than their own philosophy, and experiences, and conjectures, as their sufficient and sure guide in things of this nature.
Fourthly, Experience confirms that persons seeming to have convictions and comforts following one another in such a method and order, as is frequently observable in true converts, is no certain sign of grace*. I appeal to all those ministers in this land, who have had much occasion of dealing with souls, in the late extraordinary season, whether there has not been many who do not prove well, that have given a fair account of their experiences, and have seemed to be converted according to rule, i. e. with convictions and affections, succeeding distinctly and exactly, in that order and method, which has been ordinarily insisted on, as the order of the operations of the Spirit of God in conversion.
* Mr. STODDARD, who had much experience of things of this nature, long ago observed, that converted and unconverted men cannot be certainly distinguished by the account they give of their experience; the same relation of experiences being common to both. And that many persons have given a fair account of a work of conversion, that have carried well in the eye of the world for several years, but have not proved well at last. Appeal to the Learned, p. 75, 76.
But as this distinctness, as to method, is no certain sign that a person is converted; so, being without it is no evidence that a person is not converted. For, though it might be made evident to a demonstration, on scripture principles, that a sinner cannot be brought heartily to receive Christ as his Saviour, who is not convinced of his sin and misery, his own emptiness and helplessness, and his just desert of eternal condemnation-and therefore such convictions must be someway implied in what is wrought in his soul-yet nothing proves it to be necessary, that all those things which are implied or presupposed in an act of faith in Christ, must be plainly and distinctly wrought in the soul, in so many successive and separate works of the Spirit, that shall be each one manifest, in all who are truly converted. On the contrary, (as Mr. SHEPARD observes), sometimes the change made in a saint, at first work, is like a confused chaos; so that the saints know not what to make of it. The manner of the Spirit's proceeding in them that are born of the Spirit, is very often exceeding mysterious and unsearchable: we, as it were, hear the sound of it, the effect is discernible; but no man can tell whence it came, or whither it went. And it is oftentimes as difficult to know the way of the Spirit in the new birth, as in the first birth: Eccl. xi. 5. Thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, or how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God, that worketh all. The ingenerating of a principle of grace in the soul, seems in scripture to be compared to the conceiving of Christ in the womb, Gal. iv. 19. And therefore the church is called Christ's mother, Cant. iii. 11. And so is every particular believer, Matth. xii. 49, 50. And the conception of Christ in the womb of the blessed virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost, seems to be a designed resemblance of the conception of Christ, in the soul of a believer, by the power of the same Holy Ghost. And we know not what
is the way of the Spirit, in the heart that conceives this holy child. The new creature may use that language in Psal. cxxxix. 14, 15. I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret. Concerning the generation of Christ, both in his person, and also in the hearts of his people, it may be said, as in Is. liii. 8. Who can declare his generation? We know not the works of God, that worketh all. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, (Prov. xxv. 2.) and to have his path as it were in the mighty waters, that his footsteps may not be known: and especially in the works of his Spirit on the hearts of men, which are the highest and chief of his works. And therefore it is said, Is. xl. 13. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? It is to be