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whether what he has experienced be a common, or saving work of the Spirit. He opens his case to his Christian friends; they are afraid to speak comfortably, lest it should settle him down on a false foundation, if all still be wrong. But they dare by no means speak discouraging; because, according to his account, his case is hopeful, although not clear. So they know not what to say. Now what is the best advice that can be given to a man in such a case?”
Tell him, that although he is at a loss about his state, yet these three things he may be certain of: they are true, and may be depended upon, viz. he is a sinner; the Gospel is true; and it is his duty to comply with it. Thus tenderly address him:
Although you are conscientious in all your ways, yet you know you have been, and still are, a sinner. Your heart is not what it ought to be. Your temper towards God, Christ, and divine things, is not as it should be. Nor do you take that pains in the use of means, in prayer, meditation, keeping the heart, &c. as you might. You are to blame. You are wholly to blame. God is righteous in his present dealings with you. Yea, you deserve infinitely worse than all this, even to be sent immediately to hell. Wherefore, see it, own it, come down and lie in the dust at the foot of God, and learn habitually to understand, realize, and approve of God's law as holy, just, and good.
"And as it is true that you are a sinner, and deserve hell; so it is equally true that Christ has died for sinners, and God is ready, through him, to be reconciled to all that believe. And the truth of these glad tidings may be depended upon. And you cannot reasonably desire, that God should be reconciled to you, in any other way than this, which is so perfectly adapted and suited to honour God, discountenance sin, humble the sinner, and glorify grace.
"Now, whether you was ever savingly converted no not, yet it is equally your duty in a sense that hell is your proper due, and that you are absolutely helpless and undone in yourself, and in a firm belief of the truth of the Gospel, to apply to the great atonement of Christ, and to look to the free grace of God through him, for mercy to pardon, and
grace to help, according to all your needs; and through Christ to devote and give up yourself to God, to love him, live to him, and to be for ever his. And in this way your state may be cleared up, and your doubts removed."
OBJ. But is there not danger, that all this may settle him down on a false hope; if as yet he never was converted?
ANS. 1. If he never was converted, then he never yet heartily approved of the law, or really believed the Gospel, or ever heartily complied with it. Therefore, putting him upon these things, will tend to convince him that he never did; for it will tend to show him that it is not in his heart to do it; and consequently that there is no seed of grace there but that he is quite dead in sin: and that therefore unless he is born again, he shall never see the kingdom of God. say, it will tend to convince him of all this; and if after all he remains unconvinced, the fault will be his own.
2. If he has been savingly converted, then this method of dealing with him will be like pointing out the way to one lost in a wilderness. He likes the directions; he takes them, he hastens towards the road, he finds it, he remembers it; he rejoices, and takes better heed to keep the right path through the rest of his journey. For the true convert, although under great backslidings, has still the root of the matter in him; has it in his heart to justify the law, to be pleased with the Gospel-way of life, and to look to free grace through Jesus Christ for all things. Like Jonah in the belly of hell, when the weeds wrapt about his head, and he was ready to say, that he was cast out of God's sight; and his soul fainted within him. Then he remembered God, and looked again towards his holy temple, where God dwelt in the cloud of glory over the mercy-seat, under which the law was laid up in the ark, in the most holy place of the HOLY OF HOLIES, into which the high-priest entered once a year with the blood of atonement. He looked hither; his former ideas of God revived: he remembered the Lord and a sense of God, as there manifested, encouraged him to pray. He prayed, and God heard him, and delivered him out of all his distresses. And many a poor broken hearted backslider has done in like manner, and found it good to draw near to the
Lord. And thus the truth clear held forth to the conscience, as it tends to kill the false hopes of a self-deceived hypocrite; so it tends to awaken and encourage the true saint to such exercises of grace as may be plainly discernible, and lay a foundation for a full assurance. To conclude,
6. From what has been said, "the true state of the Christless sinner appears in a clear light." For, while we view the sinner, as under a law that requires sinless perfection under pain of eternal damnation, we may easily see how the case stands with him. He is under the curse; he cannot obtain deliverance, by any works of righteousness, which he can do; he daily runs deeper into debt; he has no claim to any mercy, of any kind, temporal or spiritual; till he sees this to be his case, and heartily approves the law, by which he stands condemned, it is impossible he should see his need of Christ, or approve of, or fall in with, the way of salvation by him. :
"He is under the curse." For as many as are of the works of the law, i. e. of a disposition to trust in their own doings, (as all are, until through the law, they are become dead to the law,) are under the curse. And that as really as if Christ had never died. For Christ will profit them nothing, will be of no effect to them, as it is written, behold, I Paul, say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing ♣. Christ is become of no effect unto you; whosoever of you are justified by the law, ye are fallen from grace. Not that circumcision, simply and in itself, proved them to have no interest in Christ, (for Paul circumcised Timothy f.) But if they were circumcised under a notion of recommending themselves to God by their duties, and obtaining the favour of God by their own righteousness, as was professedly the case with some of them, then it was a sufficient evidence of their temper, and of their state. They were of the works of the law, and so under the curse. Wherefore, let it be observed, that according to St Paul, every self-righteous sinner is out of Christ, and every sinner out of Christ is under the curse. Being actually under a law which requires sinless perfection en pain of eternal damnation, he is by this law doomed to
d Gal. v. 2.
e Gal. v. 4.
f Acts xvi. 3.
g Gal. iii. 10.
eternal destruction. For they are debtors to do the whole law; and therefore the curse takes hold of them, if they fail in any one point. Therefore,
"The Christless sinner cannot obtain deliverance by any works of righteousness which he can do." Because nothing short of sinless perfection will entitle him to life. And it is too late for this. He has sinned already; and so is a lost creature; nor is there any hopes in his case, on account of any thing he can do; he is quite undone in himself; and his case hourly grows worse. For,
"He continually runs deeper into debt." As his sins are constantly multiplying, and his guilt increasing, and nothing done, in the least, to make amends; so he is constantly treasuring up wrathi.
"And he has no claim to any mercy of any kind, temporal or spiritual," he can claim nothing by law; unless he had fulfilled the law. And he can claim nothing by Christ, unless he were in Christ. And so having no claim by law or Gospel, he has no right to any thing. No right to his life.That is forfeited, and all the good things of this world are forfeited. And his soul is forfeited. Yea, he is actually under the sentence of condemnation *. It is true, he is reprieved; but it is only of God's sovereign pleasure. He dies, he drops into hell, when God pleases. He has no claim to the day of grace, or means of grace, or to any help from God. Hell is his due; he can claim nothing better. Hell is his present due, and he can claim no forbearance. In every respect, he lies at God's sovereign mercy.
"When he sees this to be his case, and heartily approves the law by which he stands condemned;" then, and not till then, is there any door of hope, or any way of escape. But he is shut up under sin1: and bound down under wrath. For until this, it is impossible he should understand, or believe, or approve of, or acquiesce in, the Gospel-way of life. Or trust in Christ, as therein set forth.
Unless he thus heartily approves of the law, he cannot un
h Gal. v. 3.
i Rom. ii. 5.
k Johu iii. 18.
m John iii. 36.
derstand the Gospel-way of life. For while it does not appear best, that sin should be so punished, he cannot understand why Christ died. He cannot understand what good end needed to be answered, or was answered, by his death.He cannot understand his need of him, or what it is to believe on him. It is all hid from him". It is all profound darkness. And all the seeds of infidelity are in his heart.
He cannot really believe the Gospel to be from God. For while he does not see what ends need to be answered, it must appear incredible that the Son of God should become incarnate and die.
He cannot approve of the Gospel. For this would imply an hearty approbation of the law. If it does not appear reasonable, fit, and beautiful, that he should be punished as the law threatens; it cannot appear reasonable, fit, and beautiful, that the Son of God should bear the curse in his stead. If the law is too severe, it ought to be repealed.
Therefore, he cannot acquiesce, heartily acquiesce, in such a way of life. It does not suit his heart. He is not pleased
And so he can have no genuine disposition to look to, and trust in Christ as set forth in the Gospel, the whole plan being virtually disliked, while it does not appear best, and a thing desirable, that sin should be punished with so great severity. Therefore he must remain in profound darkness, shut up under sin, bound down under wrath, and in fearful expectations of everlasting destruction, until his uncircumcised heart is humbled.
But no sooner is the sinner brought heartily to approve the law, under a sense of the infinite greatness and glory of God, so as sincerely to say, AMEN, to it; but every thing ap pears in a different light. The controversy is now at an end. The enmity is slain. The sinner, the rebel, is turned to be on God's side, is become a friend; and even rejoices to see God's honour so effectually secured. And the Gospel is understood, believed, approved of, acquiesced in; yea, with all his heart he complies with this way of life. Trusting in
n Matt. vi. 35.
9 Lev. xxvi. 41.