The Christian's Great Interest. Part Two
They shall be made strong' (Isa. 28: 22); for 'a
jot of His word cannot fail.' (Matt. 5: 11.)
Therefore, seek eye-salve from Christ to judge of things according as the word of God shall discover them to be.
IV.--Causes why so few attain to a distinct knowledge of their state
The fourth thing to be premised is, although the matter of a man's interest in Christ be of so great importance, and the way to attain to the knowledge of it so plainly held forth in the Scriptures, yet there be but few who reach the distinct knowledge of it. And that this may not discourage any person from attempting it, I shall hint some few reasons why so few come to the clear knowledge of it; which will also prepare the way for what is to be spoken afterwards.
(1) The first thing which hinders many from the knowledge of their interest in Christ is their ignorance of some special principles of religion; as,
1. That it was free love in God's bosom, and nothing in man, that moved Him to send a Saviour to perfect the work of redemption (John 3: 16)-'God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.' Men are still seeking some ground for that work in themselves, which leads away from suitable and high apprehensions of the first spring and rise of God's covenant favour to His people, which has no reason, cause, or motive in us; and so they cannot come to the knowledge of their interest.
2. They are ignorant how that love effectually discovers itself to a man's heart, so as he has ground to lay claim to it, namely, That ordinarily,
1st, It discovers his fallen state in himself, because of sin and corruption defiling the whole man, and any thing in him that might be called a righteousness: 'All these things are loss and dung.' (Phil. 3: 8.)
2nd1y, It discovers Christ as the full and satisfying treasure, above all things: 'The man finds a treasure, for which with joy he selleth all that he has.' (Matt. 13: 44, 46.)
3rdly, It determines the heart, and causes it to approach unto a living God in the ordinances: 'Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest, and causes to approach unto Thee, that he may dwell in Thy courts' (Psa. 65: 4); and causes the heart to wait upon Him, and Him alone: 'My soul, wait thou only upon God. (Psa. 62: 5.) Thus having dropped in the seed of God in the heart, and formed Christ there (Gal. 4: 19), the heart is changed and made new in the work (Ezek. 36: 26); and God's law is so stamped upon the heart in that change (Jer. 31: 33), that the whole yoke of Christ is commended to the man without exception. (Rom. 7: 12, 16.) The law is acknowledged good, holy, just, and spiritual. Upon all which, from that new principle of life, there flow out acts of a new life (Gal. 5: 6), 'Faith worketh by love;' (Rom. 6: 18, 22), and the man becometh a servant of righteousness unto God, which especially appears in the spirituality of worship: men then 'serve God in spirit and in truth, in the newness of the spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter' (John 4: 24; Rom. 7: 6)--and tenderness in all manner of Conversation. The man then 'exerciseth himself how to keep a conscience void of offense towards God and towards men.' (Acts 24: 16.) Now in this way does the love of God discover itself unto man, and acteth on him, so as he has ground of laying some good claim to it; and so as he may justly think that the love which sent a Saviour had respect to such a man as has had these things made out unto him. Surely ignorance in this does hinder many from the knowledge of their interest in Christ; for if a man know not how God worketh with a person, so as he may justly lay claim to His love, which was from eternity, he will wander in the dark, and not come to the knowledge of an interest in Him.
3. Many are also ignorant of this, that God alone is the hope of His people; He is called 'the hope of Israel.' (Jer. 14: 8.) Although inherent qualifications are evidences of it, yet the staying of the heart upon Him, as a full blessing and satisfying portion, is faith-'The faith and hope must be in God' (1 Peter 1: 21)-and the only proper condition which giveth right to the saving blessings of the covenant: 'To him that worketh not but believeth, faith is counted for righteousness.' (Rom. 4: 5.) Indeed, if any person take liberty here, and turn grace unto licentiousness, there is, without doubt, in so far a delusion: since there is mercy with Him upon condition that it conciliate fear to him. (Psa. 130: 4.) Yea, hardly can any man who has found the former-mentioned expressions of God's love made out in him, make a cloak of the covenant for sinful liberty, without some measure of a spiritual conflict. In this respect, 'he that is born of God does not sin,' and 'he who does so sin has not seen God.' (1 John 3: 6, 9.)
I say God is the hope of His people, and not their own holiness. They intend honestly and long seriously to be like unto Him, many failings should not weaken their hope and confidence, for it is in Him 'who changeth not' (Gal. 3: 6); 'and if any man sin, we have an advocate.' (1 John 2: 1.) Now, when men place their hope in any other thing besides the Lord, it is no wonder they are kept in a staggering condition, according to the changes of the thing which they make the ground of their hope; since they give not to God the glory due to His name, and which He will not give to another. 'They who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee.' (Psa. 9: 10.) 'My glory will I not give to another: I am the Lord, that is my name.' (Isa. 42: 8.) 4. Many are ignorant of the different ways and degrees of God's working with His people, and this does much darken their knowledge and reflex acts of their interest in Him. This ignorance consists mainly of three things:--
1. They are ignorant of the different degrees and ways of that work of the law, by which God ordinarily dealeth with men, and of the different ways in which the Lord bringeth people at first to Christ. They consider not that the jailer is not kept an hour in bondage (Acts 16); Paul is kept in suspense three days (Acts 9); Zaccheus not one moment (Luke 19). 2. They are ignorant of, at least they do not consider, how different are the degrees of sanctification in the saints, and the honourable appearances thereof before men in some, and the sad blemishes thereof in others. Some are very blameless, and more free of gross outbreakings, adorning their profession much, as Job and Zacharias. These are said to be 'perfect and upright, fearing God, and eschewing evil' (Job 1: 8); 'righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.' (Luke 1: 6.) Others were subject to very gross and sad evils, as Solomon, Asa, etc. 3. They are ignorant of the different communications of God's face and expressions of His presence. Some walk much in the light of God's countenance, and are much in sensible fellowship with Him, as David was; others are 'all their days kept in bondage, through fear of death.' (Heb. 2: 15.) Surely the ignorance of the different ways of God's working and dealing with His people does very much darken the knowledge of their interest in Him, whilst they usually limit the Lord to one way of working, which He does not keep, as we have shown in the former examples.
(2) The second thing which darkens men about their interest in Christ is, There is one thing or other wherein their heart, in some respect, does condemn them, as dealing deceitfully and guilefully with God. It is not to be expected that those can come to clearness about their interest, whose heart does condemn them for keeping up some known transgressions against the Lord, which they will not let go, neither are using the means which they know to be appointed by God for delivering them from it: Neither can those come to clearness who know some positive duty commanded them in their stations, which they deceitfully shift and shun, not closing cheerfully with it, or not willing to be led into it. These are also, in some respects, condemned of their own heart, as the former sort are; and in that case it is difficult to come to a distinct knowledge of their state: 'If our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God.' (1 John 3: 21.) It is supposed here, that a self condemning heart maketh void a man's confidence proportionally before God. I do not deny but that men may on good grounds plead an interest in Christ in the case of prevailing iniquity: 'Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions, Thou shalt purge them away.' (Psa. 65: 3.) 'I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.' (Rom. 7: 23, 24.) But it is hard to be attained, if at all attainable, when the heart is dealing deceitfully, and entertaining known guile in any particular: therefore, let people clear themselves of the particular, which they know too well. It is the thing which hinders them, marring their confidence and access in all their approaches unto God. 'Yet ye have forsaken Me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more.' (Judges 10: 13.) The idolatries of the people are cast up to them by the Lord, and their suit rejected thereupon. That which draweth away the heart first in the morning, and last at night, like 'an oven heated at night, and it burns as a flaming fire in the morning' (Hos. 7: 6), spoken of the wicked; and taketh up their thoughts often on their bed: as it is said of some, 'He deviseth mischief upon his bed' (Psa. 36: 4):-
That which does ordinarily lead away the heart in time of religious duty, and the remembrance of which has power to enliven and quicken the spirits more than the remembrance of God, so as 'their heart is after the heart of some detestable thing' (Ezek. 11: 21):--That which withstandeth men when they would lay hold on the promise, as God casteth up men's sins to them who are meddling with His covenant, 'What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldst take My covenant in thy mouth?' (Psa. 50: 16):--that is the thing which does prevent the knowledge of a gracious state. Let it go, and it will be more easy to reach the knowledge of an interest in Christ.
(3) The third thing which hindereth in many the knowledge of an interest in Christ is, A spirit of sloth and careless negligence. They complain that they know not whether they be in Christ or not; but as few take pains to be in Him, so few take pains to try if they be in Him. It is a work and business which cannot be done sleeping: 'Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves: know ye not your own selves.' (2 Cor. 13: 5.) The several words used here, namely, Examine, prove, know--intimate that there is a labour in it: Diligence must be used to make our 'calling and election sure.' (2 Peter 1: 10.) It is a business above flesh and blood: the holy 'anointing which teacheth all things,' must make us 'know the things freely given to us of God.' (1 John 2: 27.) Shall the Lord impart a business of so great concernment, and not so much as 'be inquired after to do it for men?' (Ezek. 36: 37.)
Be ashamed, you who spend so much time in reading of romances, in adorning your persons, in hawking and hunting, in consulting the law concerning your outward state in the world, and it may, be in worse things than these;--Be ashamed, you that spend so little time in the search of this, whether ye be an heir of glory or note whether you be in the way that leadeth to heaven, or that way which will land you in darkness for ever? You who judge this below you, and unworthy of your pains, any part or minute of your time, it is probable, in God's account, you have judged yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, so that you shall have no lot with God's people in this matter.
(4) The fourth thing that darkens the knowledge of an interest in Christ is, Men do not condescend upon what would satisfy them. They complain that God will not show unto them what He is about to do with them, but yet cannot say they know what would satisfy them concerning His purpose. This is a sad thing. Shall we think those are serious who have never as yet pitched on what would satisfy them, nor are making earnest inquiry after what should satisfy? If the Lord had left us in the dark in that matter, we were less inexcusable; but since the grounds of satisfaction, and the true marks of an interest in Christ, are so clear and frequent in Scripture, and so 'many things written, that our joy may be full' (1 John 1: 4); and, 'that those who believe,' may 'know that they have eternal life' (1 John 5: 13); and since 'he that believeth has the witness of it in himself ' (1 John 5: 10), none can pretend excuse here. We shall not here insist to show what may and should satisfy concerning our interest, since we are to speak directly of it afterwards.
(5) The fifth thing that helps much to keep men in the dark with respect to their interest in Christ is, Their pitch upon some mutable grounds, which are not so apposite proofs of the truth of an interest in Christ as of the comfortable state of a triumphing soul sailing before the wind; and marks which I grant are precious in themselves, and do make out an interest clearly where they are; yet they are such as without which an interest in Christ may be, and be known also in a good measure. We shall touch on a few of them.
1st, Some think that all who have a true interest in Him are above the prevailing power of every sin; but this is contrary to that of Psa. 65: 3, 'Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions Thou shalt purge them away;' where we find that holy man laying just claim to pardon, in the case of prevailing iniquity; and that of Rom. 7: 23, 24, 25, where Paul thanketh God through Christ, as freed from the condemnation of the law, even whilst a law in his members leadeth captive unto sin.
2nd, Some think that all true saints have constantly access unto God in prayer, and sensible returns of prayer at all times; but this is contrary to the many sad exercises of His people, complaining often that they are not heard nor regarded of God: 'How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?' (Psa. 13: 1); 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? why art Thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but Thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.' (Psa. 22: 1, 2.)
3rd, Some think that all who have any true interest in Him have God witnessing the same unto them, by a high operation of that witnessing Spirit of His, spoken of: 'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God' (Rom. 8: 16, whereof afterwards); and so they still suspect their own interest in Christ, because of the want of this. But they do not remember that they must first believe and give credit to that record which God has given of the Son, that there is life enough in Him for men (1 John 5: 10,11), and then look for the seal and witness of the Spirit: 'In whom, after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.' (Eph 1: 13.) As long as people hold fast these principles, and the like, they can hardly come to the knowledge of their gracious state, which God has warranted people to prove and clear up to themselves, otherwise than by these aforesaid things.
V.--Some mistakes concerning an interest in Christ removed
The fifth thing to be premised is,
The removal of some mistakes into which people may readily run themselves when they are about to prove their interest in Christ; as-
1. It is a mistake to think that every one who is in Christ does know that he is in Him; for many are truly gracious, and have a good title to eternal life, who do not know so much, until it be made out afterwards: 'These things are written to them that believe, that they may know they have a title to eternal life' (1 John 5: 13); that is, that they may know they are believers, and so it is supposed they knew it not before.
2. It is a mistake to think that all who come to the knowledge of their interest in Christ do attain an equal certainty about it. One may say, 'He is persuaded nothing present, or to come, can separate him from the love of God' (Rom. 8: 18); another comets but this length, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.' (Mark 9: 24.)
3. It is a mistake to think that every one who attains a strong persuasion of his interest does always hold there; for he who today may say of the Lord, 'He is his refuge' (Psa. 91: 2), and 'his portion' (Psa. 11: 57), will at another time say, 'He is cut off' (Psa. 31: 22), and will ask, 'if the truth of God's promise does fail for evermore' (Psa. 77: 7, 8, 9.)
4. It is also a mistake to think that every one who attains a good knowledge of their gracious state can formally answer all objection made to the contrary; but yet they may hold fast the conclusion, and say, 'I know whom I have believed.' (2 Tim. 1: 12.) There are few grounds of the Christian religion, whereof many people are so persuaded, as that they are able to maintain them formally against all arguments brought to the contrary; and yet they may and will hold the conclusion steadfastly and justly; so it is in the case in hand.
5. It is no less a mistake to imagine, that the vain groundless confidence, which many profane ignorant atheists do maintain, is this knowledge of an interest in Christ which we plead for. Many do falsely avow Him 'to be their Father' (John 8: 14); and many look for heaven, who are beguiled, like the 'foolish virgins.' (Matt. 25: 12.) Yet we must not think because of this, that all knowledge of an interest is a delusion and fancy, although these fools be deceived; for, whilst thousands are deluded, some can say on good and solid grounds, 'We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lieth in wickedness.' (1 John 5: 19.)
Chapter II.--Marks of a Saving Change
Having premised these things, it now follows that we give some marks by which a man may know if he be savingly in covenant with God, and has a special interest in Christ, so that he may warrantable lay claim to God's favour and salvation. We shall only pitch upon two great and principal marks, not willing to trouble people with many.
A preparatory law work
But before we begin to these, we will speak of a preparatory work of the law, of which the Lord does ordinarily make use, to prepare His own way in men's souls. This may have its own weight as a mark, with some persons. It is called the Work of the Law, or the Work of Humiliation. It has some relation to that 'spirit of bondage,' and does now under the New Testament answer unto it, and usually leadeth on to the 'Spirit of adoption.' (Rom. 3: 15.) Only here, let it be remembered-
1. That we are not to speak of this preparatory work of the law as a negative mark of a true interest in Christ, as if none might lay claim to God's favour who have not had this preparatory work, in its several steps, as we are to speak of it; for, as we shall see, the Lord does not always observe the same plan with men.
2. The great reason why we speak of it is, because the Lord deals with many, whom He effectually calls by some such preparatory work; and to those, who have been so dealt with, it may prove strengthening, and will confirm them in laying more weight on the marks which follow.
3. It may help to encourage others, who are under such bondage of spirit, as a good indication of a gracious work to follow; for, as we shall point out, it will be rarely found to miscarry and fail of a gracious issue.
4. Where God uses such a preparatory work, He does not keep one way or measure in it, as we shall see. For the more distinct handling of this preparatory work, we shall shortly hint the most ordinary ways by which the Lord leads people savingly into His covenant, and draws them unto Christ.
I.Some called from the womb
There are some called from the womb, as John the Baptist was (Luke 1); or in very early years, before they can be actively engaged in Satan's ways, as Timothy. (2 Tim. 3: 15.) It cannot be supposed that these have such a preparatory work as we are to speak of. And because some persons may pretend to this way of effectual calling, we offer these marks of it whereby those who have been so called may be confirmed.
1. Such are usually from their childhood kept free from ordinary pollutions, as swearing, lying, mocking of religion and religious persons, etc., with which children are often defiled. Those whom God calleth effectually, He sanctifieth from the time of that effectual calling: 'Sin cannot have dominion over them,' as over others, 'Because they are under grace.' (Rom. 6: 14.)
2. Religion is, as it were, natural to them; I mean, they need not to be much pressed to religious duties even when they are but children; they run willingly that way, because there is an inward principle of 'love constraining them' (2 Cor. 5: 14), so that they yield themselves servants of righteousness, without outward constraint. (Rom. 6: 16.)
3. Although such know not when they were first acquainted with God, yet they have afterwards such exercises of spirit befalling them as the saints in Scripture, of whose first conversion we are not told. They are, upon some occasions, shut out from God, and are again admitted, in their apprehension, to come near; their heart is also further broken up by the ordinances, as is said of Lydia. (Acts 16: 14.) And ordinarily they remember when some special subject of religion and duty, or when some sin, of which they were not taking notice before, was discovered to them. They who can apply these things to themselves, have much to say for their effectual calling from their youth.
II. Some called in a sovereign gospel-way
Some are brought to Christ in a sovereign gospel-way, when the Lord, by some few words of love swallowing up any work of the law, quickly taketh a person prisoner at the first, as He did Zaccheus (Luke 19), and others, who, upon a word spoken by Christ, did leave all and follow Him; and we hear nothing of a law-work dealing with them before they close with Christ Jesus. And because some may pretend to this way of calling, we shall touch on some things most remarkable in that transaction with Zaccheus, for their clearing and confirmation.
1. He had some desire to see Christ, and such a desire as made him waive that which some would have judged prudence and discretion, whilst he climbeth up a tree that he might see Him.
2. Christ spoke to his heart, and that word took such hold upon him, that presently with joy he accepted Christ's offer, and closed with Christ as Lord, whilst few of any note were following Him.
3. Upon this his heart was opened to the poor, although it seems he was a covetous man before.
4. He had a due impression of his former ways, evidencing his respect to the law of Moses, and this he signifies before all the company then present, not shrinking from taking shame to himself in such things as probably were notorious to the world.
5. Upon all these things, Christ confirms and ratifies the contract by His word; recommending to him that oneness of interest which behoved to be between him and the saints, and the thoughts of his own lost condition, if Christ had not come and sought him; all which is clear from Luke 19: 3-10. We grant the Lord calleth some so; and if any can lay claim to the special things we have now hinted, they have a good confirmation of God's dealing with them from Scripture; neither are they to vex themselves because of the want of a distinct preparatory law work, if their heart has yielded unto Christ; for a work of the law is not desirable, except for this end. Therefore Christ offers Himself directly in the Scripture, and people are invited to come to Him; and although many will not come to Him who is the Surety, until the spirit of bondage distress them for their debt, yet if any, upon the knowledge of their lost estate, would flee and yield to Christ, none might warrantable press a work of the law upon them. As for others, whom Christ persuaded by a word to follow Him, whatsoever He did, or howsoever He spoke to them, at His first meeting with them, we must rationally suppose that then He discovered to them so much of their necessity, and His own fulness and excellency, as made them quit all, and run after Him; and if He do so to any, we crave no more, since there is room enough there for the Physician. So that from all this, as some may be confirmed and strengthened, with whom God has so dealt, so there is no ground for deluded souls to flatter themselves in their condition, who remain ignorant and senseless of their own miseries, and Christ's all-sufficiency, and hold fast deceit.
III. Some graciously called at the hour of death
There are some brought in to Christ in a way yet more declarative of His free grace; and this is, when He effectually calls men at the hour of death. We find somewhat recorded of this way in that pregnant example of the 'thief on the cross.' (Luke 23: 39-45.) Although this seems not very pertinent for the purpose in hand, yet we shall speak a little of it, that, on the one hand, men may be sparing to judge and pass sentence on either themselves or others before the last breath; and we shall, on the other hand, speak so particularly, that none may dare to delay so great a business to the last hour of their life. We find these remarkable circumstances in the conversation between Christ and the thief.
1. The man falls out with his former companion.
2. He dares not speak a wrong word of God, whose hand is on him, but justifies Him in all that has befallen him.
3. He now sees Jesus Christ persecuted by the world without a cause, and most injuriously.
4. He discovers Christ to be a Lord and a King, whilst His enemies seem to have Him under.
5. He believes a state of glory after death so really, that he prefers a portion of it to the present safety of his bodily life, which he knew Christ was able to grant him at that time, and he might have chosen that with the other thief.
6. Although he was much abased in himself, and so humbled that he pleaded but that Christ would remember him, yet he was nobly daring to throw himself upon the covenant, on life and death; and he had so much faith of Christ's all-sufficiency, that he judged a simple remembrance from Christ would supply all his need.
7. He acquiesced sweetly in the word which Christ spoke to him for the ground of his comfort. All which are very clear in the case of that poor dying man, and prove a real work of God upon his heart. As this example may encourage some to wait for good from God, who cannot as yet lay clear claim to any gracious work of His Spirit; so we entreat all, as they love their souls, not to delay their soul's salvation, hoping for such assistance from Christ in the end, as too many do,-this being a rare miracle of mercy, in which Christ honorably triumphed over the ignominy of His cross; a parallel to which we shall hardly find in all the Scripture besides. Yea, as there be but few at all saved: 'many be called, but few are chosen' (Matt. 20: 16); and fewest saved this way; so the Lord has peremptorily threatened to laugh at the calamity, and not to hear the cry of such as mocked formerly at His reproof, and would not hear when He called to them: 'Because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear comes' (Prov. 1: 24-26): which scripture, although it does not shut mercy's door upon any, who at the hour of death do sincerely judge themselves and flee to Christ, as this penitent thief did; yet it certainly implieth that very few, who reject the offer until then, are honoured with repentance as He was; and so their cry, as not being sincere, and of the right stamp, shall not be heard.
IV. God's more ordinary way of calling sinners to Himself
The fourth and most ordinary way by which many are brought to Christ, is by a clear and discernible work of the law, and humiliation; which we generally call the spirit of bondage as was hinted before. We do not mean that every one, whose conscience is awakened with sin and fear of wrath, does really close with Christ; the contrary appears in Cain, Saul, Judas, eta. But there is a conviction of sin, an awakening of conscience, and work of humiliation, which, as we shall point out, rarely miscarries, or fails of a gracious issue, but ordinarily does resolve into the Spirit of adoption, and a gracious work of God's Spirit. And because the Lord deals with many sinners this way, and we find that many are much puzzled about giving judgment of this law-work, we shall speak of it particularly. This work is either more violent and sudden, or it is more quiet and gradual, so as to be protracted through a greater length of time, by which means the steps of it are very discernible. It is more violent in some, as in the jailer, Paul, and some other converts in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, on whom Christ did break in at an instant, and fell on them as with fire and sword, and led them captive terribly. And because some great legal shakings are deceitful, and turn to nothing, if not worse, we shall point at some things remarkable in these converts spoken of before, which proves the work of the law on them to have had a gracious issue and result.
1. Some word of truth or dispensation puts the person to a dreadful stand, with a great stir in the soul; some 'are pricked in heart' (Acts 2: 37); some fall a 'trembling' (Acts 16: 29.) And thus it is, that the person is brought to his wits' end: 'What wilt Thou have me to do?' saith Paul (Act: 9: 6.) 'What must I do to be saved' saith the jailer. (Acts 16: 32.)
2. The person is content to have salvation and God's friendship on any terms, as the question implies, 'What shall I do?' As if he had said, What would I not dot what would I not forego? what would I not undergo?
3. The person accepts the condition offered by Christ and His servants, as is clear in the fore-cited Scriptures.
4. The person presently becomes of one interest with the saints, joins himself with that persecuted society, puts respect on those whom he had formerly persecuted, joining and continuing with them in the profession of Christ at all hazards. Those with whom the Lord has so dealt, have much to say for a gracious work of God's Spirit in them: and it is probable many of them can date their work from such a particular time and word, or dispensation, and can give some account of what passed between God and them, and of a sensible change following in them from that time forward, as Paul giveth a good account of the work and way of God with him afterwards. (Acts 22) Again, the Lord sometimes carries on this work more calmly, softly, and gradually, protracting it so that the several steps of men's exercise under it are very discernible. It would lead us to a great length to enlarge upon every step of it. We shall touch on the most observable things in it.
1. The Lord lays siege to men, who, it may be, have often refused to yield to Him, when offering Himself in the ordinances; and by some word preached, read, or borne in on the mind, or by some providence leading on unto the word, He does assault the house kept peaceably by the strong man, the devil; and thus Christ, who is the stronger man, comes upon him (Luke 22: 11); and by the Spirit of truth, fastens the word on the man, in which God's curse is denounced against such and such sins, of which the man knoweth himself guilty. The Spirit convinces the man, and binds it upon him, that he is the same person against whom the word of God speaks, because he is guilty of sins; and from some sins the man is led on to see more, until usually he comes to see the sins of his youth, sins of omission, etc.! yea, he is led on, until he sees himself guilty almost of the breach of the whole law: he sees 'innumerable evils compassing him,' as David speaks. (Psa. 40: 12.) A man sometimes will entertain alarming views of sin in this case, and is sharp-sighted to perceive himself guilty of almost every sin. Thus the Spirit comes and convinces of sin. (John 16: 8.)
2. The Lord overcomes a special stronghold in the garrison, a refuge of lies, to which the man betaketh himself when his sins are thus discovered to him. The poor man pretends to faith in Christ, whereby he thinks his burden is taken off him, as the Pharisees said, 'We have one Father, even God.' (John 8: 41.) They pretend to a special relation to God as a common Lord. The Spirit of God drives the man from this by the truth of the Scriptures, proving that he has no true faith, and so no interest in Christ, nor any true saving grace, showing clearly the difference between true grace and the counterfeit fancies which the man has in him; and between him and the truly godly: as Christ laboureth to do with the Jews in John 8: 42, 44 'If God were your father, ye would love Me. Ye are of the devil, for ye do the lusts of your father.' So, 'fear surpriseth the hypocrite in heart' (Isa. 33: 14); especially when the Lord discovereth to him conditions, in many of those promises in which he trusted most, not easily attainable. He now sees grace and faith to be another thing than once he judged them. We may in some respect apply that word here, The Spirit 'convinceth him of sin, because he has not believed on the Son.' (John 16: 9.) He is particularly convinced of unbelief: he now sees a vast difference between himself and the godly, who, he thought before, outstripped him only in some unnecessary, proud, hateful preciseness: he now sees himself deluded, and in the broad way with the perishing multitude: and so, in this sight of his misery coucheth down under his own burden, which before this time he thought Christ did bear for him: he now begins to be alarmed as to the promises, because of such passages of Scripture as, 'What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth?' etc. (Psa. 50: 16.) 3. The man becomes careful about his salvation, and begins to take it to heart as the one thing necessary. He is brought to say with the jailer, 'What shall I do to be saved?' (Acts 16) His salvation becomes the leading thing with him. It was least in his thoughts before, but now it prevails, and other things are much disregarded by him. Since his soul is ready to perish, 'what shall it profit him to gain the world, if he lose his soul?' (Matt. 9: 26.) Some here are much puzzled with the thoughts of an irrevocable decree to their prejudice, and with the fears of uncertain death, which may attack them before their great concern is secured; and some are vexed with apprehensions that they are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is unpardonable, and so are driven a dangerous length - Satan still reminding them of many sad examples of people who have miserably put an end to their own lives: but they are in the hand of one who 'knoweth how to succour them that are tempted.' (Heb. 2: 18.)
(continued in part 3...)
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