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So you say, 'If I am Christian, I am not subject to the ordinances of Christ!' Surely, by the absurdity of this, you mast see at the first glance, that the ordinances here mentioned cannot be the ordinances of Christ! That they must needs be the Jewish ordinances, to which it is certain a Christian is no longer subject.
And the same undeniably appears from the words immediately following, "Touch not, taste not, handle not;" all evidently referring to the ancient ordinances of the Jewish Law.
So that this objection is the weakest of all. And, in spite of all, that great truth must stand unshaken, That all who desire the grace of God, are to wait for it in the means which he hath ordained. *'
V. 1. But this being allowed, that all who desire the grace of God, are to wait for it in the means he hath ordained; it may still be inquired, How those means should be used, both as to the Order and the Manner of using them?
With regard to the former, we may observe, there is a kind of order, wherein God himself is generally pleased to use these means in bringing a sinner to salvation. A stupid, senseless wretch is going on in his own way, not having God in all his thoughts, when God comes upon him unawares, perhaps by an awakening sermon or conversation, perhaps by some awful providence, or it may be by an immediate stroke of his convincing Spirit, without any outward means at all. Having now a desire to flee from the wrath to come, he purposely goes to' hear how it may be done. If he finds a preacher who speaks to the heart, he is amazed, and begins searching the Scriptures, whether these things are so? The more he hears and reads, the more convinced he is; and the more he meditates thereon day and night. Perhaps he finds some other book, which explains and enforces what he has heard and read in Scripture. And by all these means, the arrows of conviction sink deeper into bis soul. He begins also to talk of the things of God, which are ever uppermost in his thoughts; yea, and to talk with God; to pray to him; although through fear and shame, he scarce knows what to say. But whether he can speak or no, he cannot but pray, were it only in "groans which cannot be uttered." Yet being in doubt, whether " the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth Eternity," will regard such a sinner as him, be wants to pray with those who know God, with the faithful, in the great congregation. But here lie observes others go up to the table of the Lord. He considers, Christ has said, "Do this!" How is that I do not? Iain too great a sinner. I am not fit. I am not worthy. After struggling with these scruples awhile, he breaks through. Ami thus he continues in God's way, in hearing, reading, meditating, praying, and partaking of the Lord's Supper, till (k>d, in the manner that pleases him, speaks to his heart, "Thy faith hath saved thee. Go in peace."
?. By observing this order of God, we may learn what means to recommend to any particular soul. If any of these will reach a stupid, careless sinner, it is probably hearing or conversation. To such therefore, we might recommend these, if he has ever any thought about salvation. To one who begins to feci the weight of his sins, not only hearing the Word of God, but reading it too, and perhaps other serious books, may be a means of deeper conviction. May you not advise him also, to meditate on what he reads, that it may have its full force upon his heart? Yea, and to speak thereof, and not be ashamed, particularly among those who walk in the same path. When trouble and heaviness take hold upon him, should you not then earnestly exhort him to pour out his soul before God; "always to pray and not to faint;" and when he feels the worthlcssness of his own prayers, are you not to work together with God, and remind him of going up into the house of the Lord, and praying with all them that fear him? But if he does this, the dying word of his Lord will soon be brought to his remembrance; a plain intimation, that this is the time when we should second the motions of the blessed Spirit. And thus may wc lead him, step by step, through all the means which God has ordained; not according to our own will, but just as the Providence and the .Spirit of God go before and open the way.
3. Yet, as wc find no command in Holy W rit for any particular order to be observed herein, so neither do the Providence and the Spirit of God adhere to any without variation; but the means into which different men are led, and in which they find the blessing of God, are varied, transposed, and combined together, a thousand different ways. Yet still our wisdom is to follow the leadings of his Providence and his Spirit; to be guided herein, (more especially as to the means wherein wc ourselves seek the grace of God,) partly by his outward Providence, giving us the opportunity of using sometimes one means, sometimes another; partly by our Experience, which it is whereby his free Spirit is pleased most to work in our heart. And in the mean time, the sure and general rule for all who groan for the salvation of God is this,—Whenever opportunity serves, use all the means which God has ordained; for who knows in which God will meet thee with the grace that bringeth salvation?
4. As to the manner of using them, whereon indeed it wholly depends whether they shall convey any grace at all to the user; it behoves us, first, Always to retain a lively sense,.that God is above all means. Have a care therefore of limiting the Almighty. He doeth whatsoever and whensoever it pleaseth him. He can convey his grace, either in or out of any of the means which he hath appointed. Perhaps he will. "Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" Look then every moment for his appearing. He it at the hour you are employed in his ordinances; or before, or after that hour; or when you arc hindered therefrom. He is not hindered; He is always ready, always able, always willing, to save. "It is the Lord, let him do what secmeth him good!"
Secondly: Before you use any means, let it be deeply impressed on your soul, There is no power in this. It is in itself, a poor, dead, empty thing: separate from God, it is a dry leaf, a shadow. Neither is there any merit in my using this; nothing intrinsically pleasing to God; nothing whereby I deserve any favour at his hands, no, not a drop of water to cool my tongue. But, because God bids, therefore I do; because he directs me to wait in this way, therefore here 1 wait for his free mercy, whereof cometh my salvation.
Settle this in your heart, that the opus operatum, the mere work done, profiteth nothing; that there is no power to save, but in the Spirit of God, no merit, but in the Blood of Christ; that, consequently, even what God ordains, conveys no grace to the soul, if you trust not in Him alone. On the other hand, he that does truly trust in him, cannot fall short of the grace of God, even though he were cut off from every outward ordinance, though he were shut up in the centre of the earth.
Thirdly: In using all means, seek God alone. In and through every outward thing, look singly to the power of his Spirit, and the merits of his Son. Beware you do not stick in the work itself; if you do, it is all lost labour. Nothing short of God can satisfy your soul. Therefore, eye bin) in all, through all, and above all.
Remember also, to use all means, as means; as ordained, not for their own sake, but in order to the renewal of your soul iu righteousness and true holiness. If, therefore, they aetually tend to this, well; but if not, they are dung and dross.
Lastly, After you have done any of these, take care how you value yourself thereon: how you congratulate yourself as having done some great thing. This is turning all into poison. Think, ' If God was not there, what does this avail? Have 1 not been adding sin to sin? How long? () Lord! save, or I perish! O lay not this sin to my charge !1 If God was there, if his love flowed into your heart, you have forgot, as it were, the outward work. You see, you know, you feel, God is all in all! Be abased! Sink down before him! Give him all the praise. "Let God in all things be glorified through Christ Jesus." Let all your bones cry out, "My song shall be always of the lovingkindness of the Lord: with my mouth will I ever be telling of thy truth, from one generation to another!"
THE CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART:
ST. MARY'S, OXFORD, BEFORE THE UNIVERSITY,
ON JANUARY I, 1733.
"Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter" Worn. ii. 29.
1. It is the melancholy remark of an excellent man, that he who now preaches the most essential duties of Christianity, runs the hazard of being esteemed, by a great part of his hearers, "a setter forth of new doctrines." Most men have so lived away the substance of that religion, the profession whereof they still retain, that no sooner are any of those truths proposed, which difference the Spirit of Christ from the spirit of the world, than they cry out, "Thou bringest strange things to our ears; we would know what these things mean :"—though he is only preaching to them "Jesus and the resurrection," with the necessary consequence of it,—If Christ be risen, ye ought then to die unto the world, and to live wholly unto God.
2. A hard saying this to the natural man, who is alive unto the world, and dead unto God; and one that he will not readily be persuaded to receive as the truth of God, unless it be so qualified in the interpretation, as to have neither use nor significancy left. He " rcceiveth not the" words " of the Spirit of God," taken in their plain and obvious meaning; "they are foolishness unto him: neither [indeed] can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned :"—they are perceivable only by that spiritual sense, which in him was never yet awakened; for want of which he must reject, as idle fancies of men, what are both the wisdom and the power of God.
3. That " Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and