Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

Prayer also, in the same effectual manner, opens to the view of the soul, with peculiar power, its whole moral state ; its guilt, its exposure, and its ruin. All these things, when brought up to view in its converse with God, in making them the subjects of its own confessions and requests, and in revolving them with the most solemn and interesting meditation, all enhanced by a realizing sense of the presence of God, are felt by the soul with a peculiar energy, usually followed by happy effects. • Each of the other Means of Grace, which I have specified, has its own, and that a very desirable, power of affecting the heart, We are so formed, as to be capable of deep impressions in various ways, and from many different sources. Each

Each way has its peculiar efficacy; and every source is copious in its influence on the mind.

The great objects, concerning which these impressions are ese pecially needed, and are actually made, are the guilt and danger of sin; the glorious mercy of God in redeeming, sanctifying, and forgiving sinners; the absolute dependence of the soul on Him for all good, both natural and moral; and his willingness to communicate both through Jesus Christ. These united, and thoroughly understood, constitute those views, and awaken those emotions, which, together, are commonly styled Convictions of Conscience; or, to speak perhaps with more precision, that awakened state of the Conscience, which usually precedes Regeneration; and which, in the ordinary course of God's providence, seems indispensable to its existence. Converse with as many religious men, as you please, concerning this subject; and every one of them will declare, that he has passed through a state of mind, substantially of this nature ; and will inform you, that it anteceded every hope of reconciliation to God, and every exercise, which he has believed to be genuine religion in itself. Such, then, may be deemed one of the laws of the moral or spiritual kingdom: a law, which appears to be formed with supreme wisdom, and with supreme benevolence to the sinner. If he were never to entertain such a sense of sin; if he were never to have such apprehensions of his danger; if he were never thus to feel his dependence on his Maker; he could not, I think, form any just views of the nature, or greatness, of 'his deliverance; nor of the goodness of God in rescuing him from destruction, sanctifying his soul, and blotting out his transgressions; nor of the importance, or excellence, of that holiness, with which he is endued; nor of the nature and glory of that happiness, to which he will gain a final admission. In a word, it seems indispensable, that such a state of mind should precede his regeneration, in order to enable him, throughout all his future being, to understand what God has done for him, and to feel the gratitude, actual. ly felt by the minds, and joyfully expressed in the praises, of the first-born.

Vol. IV.

Some persons, when considering this subject, appear to feel, as if regeneration could not be absolutely attributed to the Spirit of Truth, unless it was accomplished, altogether, without the employment of Means. But this opinion is plainly erroneous. The very Means themselves are furnished entirely by this Divine Agent. When furnished, all of them, united, would prove wholly insufficient without his Creative influence. No man, in his sober senses, ever mistrusted, that ploughing and sowing, rain and sunshine, would produce wheat. The Almighty Power of God, after all these things have operated to the utmost

, is absolutely necessary even to the germination of the seed, and still more obviously to the perfection of the plant. In the same manner, whatever means may be employed in bringing man from sin to holiness, and whatever may be their influence, the Creative power of the Divine Spirit is absolutely necessary to accomplish his renovation. All that can be truly said, in this case, is, that this Glorious Person operates in one manner, and not in another.

The human soul is not regenerated in the same manner with that, in which the dust of the ground was originally made into a human body. In this case, a mere act of Divine power, unconnected with every thing else, accomplished the effect. But, before renewing man, God is pleased in the usual course of his Spiritual providence, to instruct him, to alarm, to invite, to promise, and to persuade. To prove the usefulness of these means, nothing more seems necessary, than to observe, that they always precede, or attend, our renovation : that is, always in the usual course of provi. dence. It is the soul, which is thus taught, alarmed, and allured, upon which descends the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit; and not the soul, uninstructed, unawakened, thoughtless of its guilt, and devoted only to the pursuit of sensual objects. The whole history of experimental religion, both within and without the Scriptures, is, unless I am deceived, a complete confirmation of this truth.

But to the existence of this state of the soul, the Means of Grace, as I have described them, and their influence, appear to be indispensable. By the Instructions, which they communicate on the one hand, and the Impressions, which they make on the other, concerning spiritual objects, they appear, whenever employed with seriousness, fervour, and perseverance, to bring the soul into this interesting and profitable situation. It is, I conceive, with reference to this fact, that God says, Is not my word as the fire, and as the hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces ? With reference to this fact, Christ says, that his words are spirit and life; and that they will make men free from the bondage of corruption. With the same reference, Paul declares the Gospel to be the Power of God unto salvation, and the Word of God to be quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. From this power of the Gospel was derived the fact, that the Jews, who crucified Christ, were in such numbers pricked in the heart by the preaching of St. Peter, and cried out, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

All the efficacy, which I have attributed to the Means of Grace, does not, I acknowledge, amount to regeneration, nor ensure it. But it amounts to what St. Paul terms planting and watering. The increase must be, and still is, given by God only; In the same manner, God must create the grain: or the husbandman, after all his ploughing and sowing, after all the rain and the sunshine, will never find a crop. Still, these are indispensable means of his crop; so indispensable, that without them, the crop would never exist. As truly, in the ordinary course of providence, there will, without the use of the Means of Grace, be no spiritual harvest. There will be no Instructions given; no Impressions made; and no realizing convictions of guilt, danger, and dependence, produced: and without these, there will be no regeneration of the soul, and no title obtained to eternal life.

SERMON CXXXVII.

.

THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.

1 CORINTHIANS iv. 15.--For though ye have len thousand instruclors in Christ, yet

have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus have I begolten you through the Gospel.

In the first discourse, from these words, I proposed, 1. To show, that there are Means of Grace ; II. To show, What they are ; III. To explain their Influence ; and, IV. To answer the principal Objections lo this scheme of doctrine.

The three first of these subjects have been already discussed. I shall now,

IV. Answer the principal Objections to this scheme of doctrine.

These, as they are customarily alleged, may be considered as chiefly made to two practical inferences, which I shall derive from the two preceding discourses.

1. It follows from the observations, made in these discourses, that the Means of Grace ought to be used by Sinners ; and by Christians, for the purpose of promoting the salvation of Sinners.

If there are Means of grace and salvation, given by God; then they were given for the very purpose of promoting the salvation of sinners. As this was the end, which God proposed in communicating them to mankind; it is an end, in which all men are bound to rejoice, and which they are plainly obligated to pursue. But unless these means are used by Sinners for their own salvation, they will ordinarily be of no benefit to them: and, unless Christians use them, also, for the purpose of promoting the salvation of sinners, they will fail of their intended effect. Christian Ministers must preach the Gospel to sinners. Christian Parents must edu- .. cate their sinful children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Christians must live, and act, and converse, with sinners. Otherwise, the salvation of sinners will usually be neglected, and therefore will be unattained.

Further; if there are Means of Grace, then the appointment of them is wise; the communication of them to mankind, benevolent; and the use of them by those, for whom they were appointed, proper. It can hardly be supposed, that God has provided, and published, means of salvation to mankind, and yet by his own authority made it improper, that they should be used. According to this scheme, sinners, although expressly commanded to flee from

the wrath to come, to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to turn from the error of their way, are yet by Divine authority precluded from the very measures, which alone will, in the usual course of things, produce the effect enjoined.

That Christians are bound to employ the Means of Grace for the salvation of sinners, will not, I suppose, be doubted. That sinners must employ them, also, in various respects, is evinced by this very position; as well as by the observations, made in the preceding discourses.

If the Gospel is to be preached to sinners; they must hear. If Christian parents are to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; they must listen to their instructions. If sinners are to become acquainted with the Word of God; or even to know whether that which is preached to them is the word of God, or not; they must read the Scriptures. If sinners are to be informed of the reality, power, and excellency, of religion, they must converse with religious men. If they are to understand, and feel, their guilt; they must commune with their own hearts. If they are ever to know the real nature of their character, and ef. forts; they must pray. From their own use of the Means of Grace, almost all their deep impressions of their guilt, danger, dependence on Christ, and absolute need of the regenerating influence of the Spirit of God, must be derived. In a word, if they are to obtain salvation, as most, or all, other Christians have ob tained it; indeed, if they are to obtain it at all, in the ordinary course of providence; they must obtain it in the use of the Means of Grace. This is the way, which God has ever blessed, and will undoubtedly bless hereafter. Nor are we warranted to hope for his blessing in any other manner.

To the proofs of this point, alleged in this, and the preceding discourses, I shall add but one, at the present time. God, in the Dispensation which he revealed to Moses, required all the Israelites to use, continually, all the Means of Grace, furnished to them in the then existing Scriptural Canon. The parent, however sinful he might be, who did not circumcise his man-child upon the eighth day, was by the express law of God punished with the excision of that child. Every male was expressly required to present himself three times a year before the Lord : that is, at the tabernacle, or in the temple. All were required to keep the appointed feasts; particularly to celebrate the passover. They were required, without distinction, to offer the various appointed sacri. fices; to educate their children religiously; and to seek the Law at the mouth of the priests, its ordinary ministers. It is remarkable, that for the omission of these duties they were, in several instances, to be punished with excision : particularly such as did not afflict themselves on the great day of Atonement: Lev. xxiii. 29: such, as, being ceremonially clean, forbore to keep the Passover: such, as killed an ox, lamb, or goat, and did not bring it to the

« ÎnapoiContinuați »