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on men's consciences : warning them to flee from the wrath to come; laying open the law as the ministration of condemnation; calling upon sinners to repent and believe the gospel ; and exhorting them to “ labour for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life ;" to “strive to enter in at the strait gate ;" to search the Scriptures, to pray, “ to press into the kingdom of heaven; to forsake their sins, and to separate from sinners?” These are the appointed means, which in all ages have been owned of God for the conviction of sinners: and though, without supernatural grace, they prove insufficient to overcome man's strong corruption : yet they are suitable means; as suitable as ploughing and sowing to procure the crop, though here also God alone can give the increase: so suitable, that in the mouth of the prisoner Paul they made even a proud Felix tremble, and almost persuaded Agrippa to be a Christian!
What is there inconsistent with inviting sinners to come to Christ; with warning them not “ to neglect so great salvation,” nor “to refuse him that speaketh ;" or with declaring that it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, than for those who reject the gospel? What inconsistent with exhorting men to “ examine themselves whether they be in the faith;” and to “ look diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God;" “.to give diligence to make their calling and election sure :" and to be careful that no man deceive them, and that they do not deceive themselves? What is there inconsistent with distinguishing between the true Christian and the false professor : with exhorting Christians to adorn their profession; to glorify God, to “ let their light shine before men;" to be “ faithful to the unrighteous mammon ;" to " redeem their time;" to " walk circumspectly;" to beware of growing negligent: to press forward, and to be ready to every good work? What inconsistent with declaring that “hereby we know the children of God, and the children of the devil ; every one that doeth not righteousness is not of God :" “ Every one that committeth sin is of the devil ?”
Finally, what is there inconsistent with discoursing to Christians very particularly concerning the Christian temper and walk ; concerning relative duties, and all other duties; and admonishing, persuading, reproving, beseeching, exhorting them, in every method, and by every motive, " to walk worthy of God, who hath called them to his kingdom and glory?" There must be a vast disadvantage in arguing against these things, which are so fully handled in the Scriptures, and are so naturally expressed in scriptural terms ; and if we be proved inconsistent, we have this consolation, that every writer of the sacred Scriptures will share the same censure.-But, in one word, are means any part of God's plan ? * If they are not, the argument not only concludes against practical preaching, but against all preaching; and we may as sensibly give over ploughing our fields, eating our food, and taking medicine. † But if means, as well as ends, be provided for in the divine counsels; then these doctrines form as firm a foundation for all exhortations, instructions, warnings, invitations, and expostulations of the preacher; and for all diligence, and watchfulness, and activity of the hearer, as the opposite tenets: and as long as I believe them true, I shall have no doubt but they give us an advantage in enforcing all these topics ; for I shall not easily be convinced that error subserves holy practice, and truth subverts it. Indeed, besides the native tendency of these means, there appears a more close connection of the means with the blessing, from the consideration that the same Lord, who appointed the means, hath promised the blessing, and inelines the heart to use them.
That is, did God predestinate the end with, or without reference to the means, by which he intended to accomplish the end?
+ The apostle Paul was assured, in a vision, that the life of every individual who sailed with him should be preserved: yet afterwards he declared as positively, “ That except the seamen continued in the ship, they could not be saved.” (Acts xxvii. 9431.) Was the event then doubttul? Was there any alteration in the purpose of God?' Was the apostle inconsistent? Or did the passengers act rationally, when, without hesitation, or any accusation of the apostle as inconsistent, they went and cut the cords, and let the boat fall into the sea, thus defeating the intention of the sailors ?
This was (as a friend observed to me) common sense, which is a very different thing from the vain rea. sonings of men in matters of religion. The truth is, God determined to save the lives of Paul and those that sailed with him; but he determined to save them in this precise manner, and in no other ; and the means were as infallibly decreed as the event.
And now in applying the subject I would observe,
1. That while numbers argue with the greatest vehemence against the points in question, and groundlessly charge them with implying the most dishonourable thoughts of God, and tending to the most pernicious consequences; others are ready to say, in extravagant zeal, to any one of greater moderation, f you really believe these doctrines, wny do you preach them so sparingly, cautiously, and practically?”—I would desire such a man carefully to study even Paul's Epistles, and to answer the objection himself. Perhaps he may thus find, that there is not a less proportion on such subjects in our sermons and publications, than in his writings: and that he as carefully guards them from perversion, and connects them as much with holy practice, as we can do. We generally meet with a few verses in an Epistle, upon the doctrines in question; a much larger proportion upon the person, love, and sufferings of Christ, and on faith in him ; and whole chapters upon a holy life and conversation: and if we do not in the same manner, proportion, guard, and connect these doctrines, hypocrites will pervert them, infidels will despise them, and the weak will be stumbled by them. Indeed they are not at all proper subjects for addresses to sinners, to prejudiced hearers, or to newly-awakened persons; and are seldom, if ever, found in Scripture explicitly thus addressed : but a great part of our more public ministry is exercised among such persons. Let it not then be thought carnal policy to adapt our discourses to the occasions and wants of the hearers, while nothing inconsistent with truth is spoken, nothing profitable kept back. Our Lord himself says, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" and Paul writes to some, who had as good an opinion of themselves, as numbers now have, and with almost as little reason, “ I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal.—I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it ; neither yet are ye now able :” and he gives a reason for this conduct, which proves that many in our congregations are not able : namely, the prevalence of strife and contention among them. Cor. ii. 2 Peter iii. 16.
The truth is, many persons would scarcely hear any thing except these doctrines! but though I firmly believe them, and should be glad for all real Christians to have the comfort of them; yet, when they are disjointed from their practical influence, they form in my judgment a very small part of Christianity. If God be pleased to bless the word in bringing men to repentance, faith, and holiness, to a Christian hope, temper, and conduct; we shall in general find it no hard matter to convince them that this is the fruit of electing love, and the sure earnest of eternal glory. And if a few do not see their privilege here, they will eternally rejoice in it hereafter.
2. God's secret purposes are consistent with his revealed declarations. Let then no sinner vainly endeavour to excuse his sins, or quiet his conscience, by a perversion of these doctrines. Though “the salvation of the righteous is wholly of the Lord;" the damnation of the wicked is wholly of themselves : and if the lustre of these truths dazzles the eyes of some poor distressed souls, some weak believers or inquirers ; let them turn their attention to another part of divine truth. Still, still this is true, " Every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
3. How careful should we be to ascertain the reality of our conversion, before we take the comfort of perseverance ! An error in this matter proves fatal to thousands, who, mistaking some transient emotions and affections for a saving change, buoy up their hopes to the end by perverting these truths, and perish with a lie in their right hand. And let it be especially observed, that the scriptural way of “making our calling and election sure,” is, by giving all diligence, not only in the means of grace, but in following after holiness, and abounding in every good work. 2 Peter i. 3—11.
* “We must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth in holy Scripture; and in our doings the will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the word of God." (17th Art.)
4. The genuine tendency of these doctrines, (as completely excluding boasting, leading us to ascribe all the glory of contriving, preparing, revealing, and applying salvation, wholly to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and thus producing deeper humiliation, and inspiring more lively gratitude, than any other system,) forms their chief excellency. Did we entirely and constantly live under their influence, we could never despise others, admire and prefer ourselves, or be angry with such as differed from us. We should “ in meekness instruct those who oppose themselves :" we should argue, persuade, and exhort them ; because these are the means which God hath appointed, and we may hope for his blessing on them. But, “ as the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," we certainly should never slander or revile others, or contend with acrimony; or hold up an opponent to derision and contempt, whilst, with an air of conscious superiority, as if “ we had made ourselves to differ," we plume ourselves and our party, on pre-eminent discernment, if not integrity. These are none of the means which God hath appointed; we cannot expect a blessing on them, nor can they do any credit to the cause.
Take heed, therefore, beloved, that your zeal for the doctrine do not lead you into a spirit and conduct, diametrically opposite to that humility, compassion, meekness, and gentleness, which it is calculated to inspire.- If Calvinists dispute with acrimony, pass hard censures, spread slanderous reports about others, judge another man's servants, and be quarrelsome and implacable; the doctrines which they profess are not to blame, nor yet their belief of them; but their want of more inward holiness, if indeed they be not wholly unsanctified. Yet the cause suffers, and the truth is disgraced, through their misconduct: and one moderate man, who loves and is kind to Christians, without respect of party, and who differs from his brethren peaceably and charitably, where constrained to differ; and adorns his profession by a holy life and conversation, will do more even 'in bringing others, cordially and intelligently, to embrace his sentiments, than twenty angry disputants who humour the pride and the malignant passions of their own party, but disgust and prejudice the minds of all who differ from them* Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." Neither let it be inferred from your conduct, that amidst the zeal of Calvinists for proselyting others to their tenets, they are less active in seeking the conversion and salvation of sinners, than their brethren whom they call Arminians. If indeed we are true believers, God hath made use of means and instruments to effect the secret purposes of his everlasting love towards us : and what is there in our peculiar opinions, that should render us less desirous of being his instruments in communicating the same blessing to others; or less sanguine in our expectations of success while using his appointed means? And what other stimulus can we want to excite our most self-denying, perilous, and zealous endeavours to spread his Gospel, than the special distinguishing love of God our Saviour, so freely shown in “ delivering us from the wrath to come,” and “ calling us to his eternal glory, by Jesus Christ our Lord ?"
Finally, my Brethern, if you have attained to a scriptural assurance of your calling and election, "give diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end : “ remember from what a dreadful state you are so wonderfully delivered ; how free to you this deliverance; what a price it cost your
Redeemer; and what he hath done for you, and prepared for you. While you rejoice in the Lord, rejoice likewise in your tribulations, and rejoice in the hope of the
glory of God, in all your conflicts and temptations : and let “ the love of Christ constrain you to live no longer to yourselves, but to him, who died for you, and rose again.” “ Be ye therefore steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord ; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”