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should we, who can do nothing, use any means ? Thus they set the decrees of God, or the sovereignty of grace, at variance with their duty; and attempt to break that har. mony of the doctrines revealed in the Scriptures, which is no small evidence of their divine original ; and bring suspicions upon those glorious doctrines for which they pro fess an extraordinary degree of zeal.
In order to explain this subject, I will en. quire,
1. Whether the utmost exertion of our diligence in using the means of grace, will ensure our salvation.
II. Whether the diligent use of means does not render our salvation more probable than the neglect of them
III. What directions may assist us in the profitable use of means.
. 1. Let us enquire, Whether our utmost diligence in the use of means will ensure ous salvation?
This question may perhaps appear superluous, because it may be very justly questioned, whether there is any unconverted, or even converted, sinner in the christian, world, that has ever used the means of grace with all possible diligence. You have read,
twenty chapters in the Bible, perhaps, in one day ; but you might have read thirty, You have endeavored to pray seven times a day with a considerable degree of fervor, but you might have prayed ten times with an equal or a greater degree of fervor, if you had bestowed more attention upon the things that belong to your peace.
But supposing a person to have used as much diligence in the public and private ex: ercises of religion, as a natural man, under a deep concern for salvation, can be supposed to do, is it certain that he will obtain salvation? . The question is not, whether men have it in their power to convert themselves? We have already shewed, that the exceeding greatness of the power of God is necessary to work a living faith, and a true repentance, in the hearts of men.
But the question is, Whether any obligation, of any kind, lies upon the Almighty to bestow his saving grace upon unregenerate persons diligent in the use of means. Would it be consistent with his goodness, consista. ent with the encouragement given to sin ners in the word of grace, to withhold from such persons what they seek with the desire of their hearts? or with all that earnestness of desire which can find place in the heart of a natural man ?
We must not allure persons to their dutyx
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by encouragements unwarranted by God in his word ; and we not only confess that nothirg done by unconverted persons can give thein any claim upon that grace, with. out which they must perish, but hold the contrary opinion to be an error subversive of the true doctrine of the grace of God.
The grace of God in our salvation is free and sovereign. Nothing in us moves God to save us. It is his great purpose in this blessed work to shew forth the exceeding riches of his grace; and the grace of God stands opposed to human works and qualifi. eations of every kind, as the apostle Paul and other holy writers abundantly teach. “ That the purpose of God, according to e. lection, might stand, not of works but of him that calleth, It was said unto her (Rem beccah) the elder shall serve the younger. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor ?". Rom. ix. 11. 21.
It is a most important doctrine in our re. ligion, that the ground of our hope in God lies not in ourselves, but in his sovereign mercy, in his faithful word, in the mediation of Christ. To imagine that we have. entitled ourselves to the favor of God by our own exertions, is to follow the wretched example of those proud men in ancient times, who, "going about to establish their own rightcousness, did not submit them
selves to the righteousness of God.” “To him that worketh, the reward is not reckoned of grace, but of debt; but to hiin that worketh not, but believeth on him that jus. tifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,' Rom. iv. 4, 5. These words of the apostle are intended to illustrate what Moses says of Abraham's faith, Gen. xv. 6. Abraham was a righteous man long before the time when it is said. that" his faith was counted to him for righteousness;" and yet the expression, says Paul, implies that he considered himself an ungodly man, in reference to that blessed privilege. He believ. ed in God to be justified, without any works performed by himself, but freely according to the riches of his grace. If the most righ
teous of men look not for acceptance with :God to any thingin themselves,howill would
it become those who are altogether destitute of any righteousness, to imagine that they have a claim to the favor of God for any work which they ever performed, or can perform?
Whatever ardor unregenerate persons may feel or discover in religious concerns, it is as true of them as of any other person in a natural state, that they are “ free from righteousness,” to use Paul's expression, Rom. vi. 20. Their ardor is not the effect of love to God, but of love to themselves, and God is not bound to thank them for that love for themselves which is not at all mingled with any real love to his own name.
We may ada, that as they are free from righteousness, they are still the servants of sin, for no man before his conversion is set free from the dominion of sin, Rom. vi. 16. And it would be very absurd to suppose that God could be under obligations of any kind to bestow the best blessings upon the servants of Satan. They do not indeed perform such service to sin, as those do who gratify every sinful lust without hesitation. They dare not run on so boldly in the ways of perdition as perhaps they once did, but they are still under the dominion of one or other of those sinful lu ts, which bring the wrath of God upon the children of dis. obedience. There is still something in the present world which they prefer to God. There are pleasures of sin which they prefer to all the pleasures of holiness, although their sense of danger prevents them from gratifying their inclinations; and this will often manifest itself to their own conviction and terror. For sin which seemed to die out in them at certain seasons, under strong impressions of its tremendous consequences, uses to collect its force when those impressions are abated, and to impel them in their wonted course of iniquity, either of an external, or more frequently of a mental kind. Nor does sin cease to operate when it seems