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Ministers of the gospel are directed, “ in meekness to instruct them that oppose themselves ; if God, peradventure, will give them repentance :” which implies, that though it is not certain what will be the event, yet it is more likely that unbelievers will be saved by converting grace, if they are properly instructed, than if they are not. It is said, “ Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it :” which, though it be not a promise, is yet a maxim, importing, at least, that there is more reason to hope a child will make a good man if he has a good education, than if left to himself. Whence it follows, that in the way of external regularity, there is more reason to expect sanctifying grace, than in ways of licentiousness and vice.
Some passages of scripture, however, may be thought to have a contrary appearance. Particularly, that saying which is several times repeated by our Saviour; “ The first shall be last, and the last first." But this implies no more than that such is sometimes the case ; not that it is always or generally so. Christ's words to the chief priests and elders of the Jews, Matt. xxi. 31, “ Verily I say unto you, that publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you ;” may likewise be thought to teach us, that the externally moral are less likely to be the subjects of special grace, than the openly vicious and immoral. But neither is this to be so understood, as a general maxim. The case was very particular. These chief priests and elders were established in a system of principles, most opposite to the fundamental doctrines of christianity. A system which led them to look upon themselves so righteous, as to have no need of repentance—so whole, as to have no need of the great Physician of souls. There was less human probability, that men thus self-righteous—thus bigotted to the pharisaical system, would embrace the gospel, than even lewd persons, and unrighteous oppressors; who were less under the influence of religious prejudices, and who had no cloak for their sins. But very different from that of those pharisees, is the case of moral persons, well indoctrinated in the christian religion, who know themselves to be in a state of nature, and who are anxiously attentive to the means of grace. No conclusion can be drawn from the one to the other, that these last are less likely to repent and believe the gospel, than careless, uninstructed, and openly profane sinners. The situation of either, indeed, is truly hazardous ; and no one can tell which of them will be saved, or which will be lost. But I cannot think we are warranted by these, or any other texts, to conclude, that prostitutes, and those who give themselves up to the most iniquitous practices; or those who cast off fear, and live in the neglect of all the appointed means of conversion, are in the most hopeful way, of any among the unregenerate, to obtain the righteousness of the kingdom of God.
And if we attend to the question in the light which experience reflects upon it, I believe it will appear that the probability of salvation, other things being equal, is much in favor of the moral and attentive. More commonly, the most abandoned are not the persons effectually called. “ Such were some of you,” says the apostle ; but he does not say that the election of grace was chiefly of such. Sometimes a Manasseh, or a Mary Magdalene is called : but they are mentioned in scripture as rare instances
-as singular examples of sovereign mercy, that none might despair. And similar, I apprehend, is still seen to be the case, as far as we are able to judge.
When there is a revival of religion in any place, (except where enthusiasm prevails, and ignorance is the mother of devotion,) the greater number thought to be converted, generally, I believe; is of such as had been religiously educated, and had less hardened themselves by vicious courses.
Instances of open infidels, and notorious profligates, brought to repentance, indeed, are more taken notice of in narratives
and conversation : but it is because they are more uncommon, and more marvellous.
Thus notwithstanding the evident sovereignty of God, in the effectual calling of sinners; both scripture and experience afford sufficient inducements to be in the use of the means of grace, and powerful dissuasives from the ways of sin, to all who have any serious concern about the salvation of their souls. In regard to the wicked man's forsaking his exter. nal wickedness, as well as in regard to his returning unto the Lord in sincerity, the great-the only discouragement, is the want of a willing mind. Men will labor hard for the meat that perisheth, notwithstanding the sovereignty of God is so often seen blessing or in blasting the fruits of their labors : but, for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, if there be any uncertainty of success, they will do nothing! They immediately say,
“ There is no hope”-there is no encouragement !
By way of inference and application ;
1. Hence hardened sinners have no reason to think they are not to blame, because it is God that hardens them. Hardness of heart is blameable, let it come how it will : but sinners, according to what has now been said, are often, if not always, exceedingly culpable in hardening themselves.
2. Hence, on the other hand, no impenitent sinner has any reason to make himself easy ; either from an imagination that it must be in his own power to become good at any time, or from an apprehension that he is now in a hopeful way, and not far from the kingdom of heaven.
Some, no doubt, on the belief of a self-determining power to will and do right, whether they please or not; or because they think themselves not so deprayed, but that they have a moral power to reform and repent, stupidly cast off fear, neglect prayer, and go on in known sin: trusting in themselves, that they can
pray whenever there shall be evident occasion for it; and in God, that he will then certainly pardon and save them. I have heard of one of this character, who said, he was not concerned, if he could only have warning enough of his death, to say,
" Lord have mercy on me.” But who was cut off at last by a violent stroke, with very different words in his mouth; namely, “ The devil take all.”
It is true, “ Every one that asketh receiveth ; and he that seeketh, findeth ;" if he ask and seek aright, in ever so few words, or ever so late. But to have a heart so to ask and seek, is “ of God that sheweth mercy.”'
Others are unconcerned, because of their morality, and regular attendance on religious duties : and some grow easy, perhaps, because of their supposed awakenings and convictions. It is true ; there is more hope of the salvation of the externally moral and religious than of such as are of a contrary char'acter : Yet, if they make a righteousness of these mere externals, or think they please God, their fancied religion, may be their ruin. It is true, when persons are under real awakenings, there is more hope of them still : Yet, if their concern makes them unconcerned, the last state with them may be worse than the first. In every case, there is still awful danger, while persons are out of Christ, the only ark of safety.
3. Hence let no sinner, however dead he finds himself in sin, despair of mercy.
When Ezekiel was asked, “ Can these dry bones live ?” he answered, “O Lord, thou knowest.”
4. Hence let those who have reason to hope that they have been effectually called, ever ascribe it to the sovereign grace of God; and make it their
great concern to live to his glory.
Remember the words of the apostle James ; “ of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."
ON THE DOCTRINE OF PERSONAL ELECTION,
ROMANS XI. 5.
Even 80 then, at this present time also, there is a remnani
according to the election of grace.
In the two chapters next preceding this, the apostle had spoken of God's calling the Gentiles, and rejection of the Jews; and had expressed, in strong terms, the extreme anxiety he felt for the latter, who were his kinsmen according to the flesh. But in this chapter he consoles himself with the assurance, that the reprobation of Israel was far from being universal. That a happy number of this once chosen nation, were still the objects of God's electing love, and the subjects of his special grace : ver. 1–4, “ I say then, Hath God cast away his people ? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew.
Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias ? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars ; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who