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that will suit his inclination, it is not for me to furnish him with any thing else: or to encourage him to hope that things will come to a good issue. The only possible way of relieving a sinner, while his heart is averse to God, is, by lowering the requirements of heaven to meet his inclination; or in some way to model the gospel to his mind. But to relieve him in this manner is at my peril! If I were commissioned to address a company of men who had engaged in an unprovoked rebellion against their king and country,—What ought I to say to them? I might make use of authority, or, intreaty, as occasion required; I might caution, warn, threaten, or persuade them; but there would be a point from which I must not depart, Be ye reconciled to your rightful sovereign : lay down arms, and submit to mercy! To this I must inviolably adhere. They might allege, that they could not comply with such hard terms. Should I admit their plea, and direct them only to such conduct as might consist with a rebellious spirit instead of recovering them from rebellion, I should go far towards denominating myself a rebel.
And as Christ and his apostles never appear to' have exhorted the unconverted to any thing which did not include or imply repentance and faith ; so, in all their explications of the divine law, and preach. ing against particular sins, their object was, to bring the sinner to this issue. Though they directed him to no means in order to get a penitent and believing heart, but to repentance and faith themselves; yet
they used means with them for this purpose. Thus our Lord expounded the law in his sermon on the mount, and concluded by enforcing such a hearing of his sayings, and doing them as should be equal to digging deep, and building one's house upon a rock. And thus the apostle Peter, having charged his countrymen with the murder of the Lord of glory, presently brings it to this issue : Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out !*
Some years ago I met with a passage in Dr. Owen, on this subject, which at that time sunk deep into my heart ; and the more observation I have since made, the more just his remarks appear. “ It is “ the duty of ministers, says he, to plead with men " about their sins; but always remember that it be * done with that which is the proper end of law and “ gospel : that is, that they make use of the sin they “ speak against to the discovery of the state and "condition wherein the sinner is; otherwise haply “ they may work men to formality and hypocrisy, “ but little of the true end of preaching the gospel « will be brought about. It will not avail to beat a “man off from his drunkenness into a sober for, “mality. A skilful master of the assemblies lays “his axe at the root, drives still at the heart. To “inveigh against particular sins of ignorant unre“ generate persons, such as the land is full of, is a “good work: but yet, though it may be done with
* Matt. y. vi. vii. Acts ii. 14--19.
“great efficacy, vigour and success, if this be all the “ effect of it that they are set upon the most sedu“lous endeavours of mortifying their sins preached “ down, all that is done, is but like the beating of « an enemy in an open field, and driving him into “ an impregnable castle, not to be prevailed against. “Get you at any time a sinner at the advantage, on " the account of any one sin whatever ; have you “ any thing to take hold of him by, bring it to his “ state and condition ; drive it up to the head, and “there deal with him. To break men off from “ particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is “ to deprive ourselves of advantages of dealing « with them.”*
When a sinner is first seized with conviction, it is natural to suppose that he will abstain from many of his outward vices, though it be only for the quiet of his own mind; but it is not for us to administer comfort to him on this ground; as though because he had broken off a few of his sins, he must needs have broken them off by righteousness, and either be in the road to life, or at least in a fair way of getting into it. It is one of the devices of Satan to alarm the sinner, and fill him with anxiety for the healing of outward eruptions of sin, while the inward part is overlooked, though it be nothing but sin. But we must not be aiding and abetting in these deceptions; nor administer any other relief than that which is held out in the
* On the Mortification of Sin, Chap. vii.
gospel to sinners as sinners. And when we see such characters violating their promises, and falling anew into their old sins, (which is frequently the case) instead of joining with them in lamenting the event, and assisting them in healing the wound by renewed efforts of watchfulness, it becomes us rather to probe the wound; to make use of that which has appeared for the detecting of that which has not appeared ; and so to point them to the blood that cleanseth from all sin. “ Poor soul!” says the eminent writer just quoted, “ It is not thy sore finger, but thy hectic fever, from whence thy life is in danger!” If the cause be removed, the effects will cease. If the spring be purified, the waters will be healed, and the barren ground become productive.
I conclude with a few remarks on the order of addressing exhortations to the unconverted. There being an established order in the workings of the human mind, it has been made a question, Whether the same ought not to be preserved in addressing it? As for instance : we cannot be convinced of sin, without previous ideas of God, and moral government; nor of the need of a saviour, without being convinced of sin ; nor of the importance of salvation, without suitable conceptions of its evil nature. Hence, it may be supposed, we ought not to teach any one of these truths till the preceding one is well understood; or, at least, that we ought not to preach the gospel without prefacing it by representing the just requirements of the law,
our state as sinners, and the impossibility of being justified by the works of our hands. Doubtless, such representations are proper and necessary; but not so necessary as to render it improper on any occasion to introduce the doctrine of the gospel without them; and much less to refrain from teaching it till they are understood and felt. In this case, a minister must be reduced to the greatest perplexity, never knowing when it was safe to introduce the salvation of Christ, lest some of his hearers should not be sufficiently prepared to receive it. The truth is, it is never unsafe to introduce this doctrine. There is such a connexion in divine truth, that if any one part of it reach the mind, and find a place in the heart, all others, which may precede it in the order of things, will come in along with it. In receiving a doctrine, we receive not only what is expressed, but what is implied by it: and thus the doctrine of the cross may itself be the means of convincing us of the evil of sin. An example of this lately occurred in the experience of a child of eleven years of age. Her minister visiting her under a threatening affliction, and perceiving her to be unaffected with her sinful condition, suggested, that “ It was no small matter that brought down the Lord of Glory into this world, to suffer and die: there must be something very offensive in the nature of sin against a holy God.”-And this remark appears to have sunk into her heart, and to have issued in a saving change.*
* Dying Exercises of Susannah Wright of Weekly, near Kettering.