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* proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb," will be encouraged to approach and take of it freely; and others will either go back into the ways of open ungodliness, or be found among the stony ground-heaters, resting in a false peace, without “sanctification of the “Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of 66 Jesus."
When the subject is considered in an abstract manner, the difference between a warrant to believe, and a disposition to believe, may at first glance appear trivial; but, viewed in its relation to experience and practice, it is immensely great and important.-It can never discourage a trembling sinner, who honestly enquires, * What he • mušt do to be saved;" to describe the nature of faith, and explain the way of salvation; and then to invite, exhort, and persuade, him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, not doubting but in so doing he will certainly be : saved. But should we enter into a discussion concerning the nature of genuine convictions, gracious thirsti and spiritual desires ; maintaining that it would be unwarranted presumption for him to believe, unless conscious that his experiences were of this nature; we should exceedingly embarrass his mind; take off his thoughts from the love of Christ, and the freeness and sufficiency of his mercy and grace; and give Satan an opportunity of tempting him to despondency, or of otherwise “ taking “ the seed out of his heart, lest he should believe and be “saved.” Indeed, most deviations from scriptural simplicity may be traced back to this abstract way of discussing doctrines: and the subjects, which chiefly perplex speculating men, and furnish the most materials for controversy, appear very easy and plain, when applied to practical purposes, according to the state of mind they were intended to meet. So that the wisdom and goodness of God, in not arranging revealed truths according to the supposed exactness and consistency of human systems, are most illustriously displayed, when these truths are applied to the several cases to which they are suited, for conviction, instruction, warning, encouragement, or exhortation.
Whatever be the nature of divine illumination; or whatever may have been a man's previous thoughts about it; he cannot in general, when first divinely illuminated, yery readily perceive any holiness in the change of which he is conscious. He now discovers, as it were intuitively, that he is a guilty polluted creature; that his supposed virtues were specious vices, and his religious duties formal, selfish, and hypocritical; and that his heart is deceitful and desperately wicked: and in proportion to the degree of his illumination, is his conviction of these humiliating truths. These recent discoveries, (or these new perceptions of what perhaps he before assented to as a notion,) occupy his thoughts: he can hardly conceive, that the hearts and lives of other men are so bad as his own; still less can he think that real and eminent saints feel those evils of which he is conscious : nay, he can scarcely be convinced, that his own heart was formerly so sinful as he now finds it to be. “ Without the law sin ** was dead." and the spirituality of the precept not only detects, but irritates, the depravity of nature, excites all manner of concupiscence, and sometimes even stirs up the dormant enmity of the heart into direct exercises of opposition to the holy character and righteous government of God.—This is also connected with a discovery of the hatefulness of sin, and a disposition to abhor it in all its forms; so that self-loathing becomes a predominant part of the new convert's experience. The stone is become flesh; and exquisite sensibility, in feeling and hating every sinful emotion, is united to a quickness of discernment in discovering sin where not before suspected; and its odious nature and numerous aggravations, which before were excused and palliated.—Every thing, therefore, concurs to discourage, as well as to humble, a person in this situation ; except the glad tidings of the blessed gospel: and should a self-complacent thought intrude itself, while he reflected on these new and more just views of his own character, he would reject it with alarm and detestation.
Thus at the very time, when the sinner is made com-pletely willing to welcome Christ and his whole salvation;
so far from perceiving any warrant in his own holy dispositions, to authorize his believing application to the Saviour and reliance on him, he commonly thinks himself worse than ever, and viler than any other sinner; and is often tempted to conclude that he has sinned beyond the reach of mercy, and that Christ will except him from the general rule of “casting out none that come “ to him."—What then can meet this case, but the scriptural assurances, “ Ask and it shall be given you ; seek and
yoll shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh receiveth ?” — And what can be more improper than to embarrass him with nice distinctions; in direct opposition to the apostolical direction, “ Him that is weak in the faith receive “ye, but not to doubtful disputations?"--In proportion as the gospel is understood, it gives encouragement, and suggests pleas, to that man who is most vile in his own estimation. He cannot indeed say, “ God I thank thee, "I am not as other men :" but he may smite on his breast, and “ say, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” " For thy name's sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity ; * for it is great.
“ I do not present my supplications " before thee for my own righteousness, but for thy great “ mercies.” The infinite and everlasting mercy of God; the all-sufficient merits, atonement, and intercession of the incarnate Son: the unencumbered invitations of the gospel, and its exhortations and injunctions, with the promises connected with them, fully warrant the vilest sinner that ever lived, to apply for salvation without delay, and without any reason to fear a repulse. For they, who have committed the unpardonable sin, “ cannot be: “ renewed to repentance," and will never thus come to Christ for his humbling holy salvation.
Trembling and almost desponding sinners seldom consider their convictions, as the effect of a supernatural in-> Auence : : nor indeed do they in general reflect at all on the cause or nature of the change of which they are conscious. And when they have leisure from the tumult of their thoughts, to make enquiries of this kind; they commonly ascribe the whole to means and instruments
and frequently imagine, that if others had heard the same. sermon, or read the same book, they must have been equally convinced. And having a far worse opinion of themselves it is very difficult to make them sensible, ayen by the clearest evidence, that their temper of mind is really better in the sight of God, than it was before. It must therefore be impossible, for a sinner, in this condition, to find a warrant for his faith, in those feelings of his own mind, which constitute a disposition to believe. Nor has he the least occasion for it; as the word of the gospel gives him a sufficient warrant and a most abundant encouragement
66 to come to Christ that he may have life.”.
II. Even such persons, as have been long accustomed 'to live by faith in the Son of God," who have frequently known“ peace and joy in believing, and have aboun"ded in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost," are sometimes overcome by temptation, or called to pass through sharp conflicts, and great darkness and distress of soul.. In these circumstances, they are often led to question, whether all their past experiences have not been a delusion; whether they were ever“ called with an holy cal" ling;? whether they ever truly loved the Lord or not.”. Should they then keep away from the throne of grace, and stand at an awful distance from the compassionate Physician of their souls, till they have determined these questions? Alas, they can determine nothing in this dark and doleful state! Every thing in themselves appears polluted and vile : the recollection of their past profession, advantages, and comforts aggravates their distress, and adds weight to the burden of their guilt; so that they are often tempted to draw the most desperate conclusions concerning their state, and the Lord's intentions respecting them. But in this manner they commonly begin to emerge from their distress.
• If all,' say they, has hitherto been self-deception, still the Lord is infinitely merciful; all things are ready; the invitations except nane ; and the Saviour says, 6 Him that cometh unto
me, I will in no wise cast out.”. Encouraged by such thoughts, “ Out of the depths they cry earnestly unto
the Lord;" they confess their guilt with all its aggravating circumstances, and plead his merciful forgiveness, and his plenteous redemption'. “ Out of the belly of “hell, they look towards his holy temple,” and seek his gracious deliverance 2; and while they beseech the Lord to glorify his infinite mercy in saving them, the vilest of sinners; he “ brings them out of the horrible pit, and “ out of the miry clay; he sets their feet upon a rock « and orders their goings; and he puts a new song
into “ their mouths, even thanksgivings unto their God” and Saviour. Then indeed a brighter light shining upon their experiences, they can discern some actings of holy fear, humility, desire, faith, hope, and love, amidst the perplexities of their souls: yet they could ascertain nothing of this kind in the time of distress and dismay, when they stood most in need of encouragement.
III. But indeed the believer, who is best established in judgment and experience, and most assured in hope, does not consider his consciousness of sanctifying grace, or his upright walk and conversation, as in any sense his warrant for faith in Christ, or in applying to him and relying on him, for renewed pardon, and fresh supplies of wisdom, strength, grace, and consolation answerable to his daily needs. He may, and will, on some occasions, appeal to the Lord for his integrity : and as -", heart does not condemn him," of hypocrisy, or allowed sin, “ he has that confidence towards God," which he could not otherwise enjoy 1. He will consider his conscious love to Christ and christians, his hatred of sin, and his delight in God's commandments, as a full proof that his faith is living, and his salvation sure: he may plead these things, as a reason why the Lord should de tend him against the tongue of slander, maintain his cause against those that injure him, and prosper his endeavours to do good: and in various ways he may“ rejoice in the “ testimony of his conscience, that in simplicity and god “ ly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace " of God, he has had his conversation in the world."
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I Ps. cxxx.
2. Jonah ii.
3 John iii. 19-22.