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plainly reprove you, we may look you should take it in good part; for you have that within you that saith as we say, and is at deadly enmity with the sin which we reprove. If we provoke you to love and to good works, we dare almost promise ourselves that you will obey; for you have that within you that disposeth you to the duty, and preacheth our sermons to you over again. O what an advantage it is to our teaching, when you are all taught of God within, as well as by his messengers without! But when we speak to the unconverted, we have little to work upon : we give physic to the dead, we speak all against the bent of their souls; and every reproof and exhortation to holiness goes against their very natures: and therefore what wonder if we have smaller hopes to prevail ?
Fourthly, If the work be thoroughly done at first, it will help to resolve many doubts that may be afterwards cast into your minds. You need not be still at a loss, and looking behind you, and questioning your foundation, but may go cheerfully and boldly on. O what an excellent encouragement is this! to know that you have hitherto made good your ground, and left all safe and sure behind you, and have nothing to do but to look before you, and press on towards the mark, till you lay hold upon the prize! whereas if you be in any great doubt of your conversiom, it will be stopping you and discouraging you in all your work: you will be still looking behind you and saying, What if I should yet be unconverted? When you should cheerfully address yourselves to prayer or sacraments, how sadly will you go, as being utterly uncertain whether you have a saving right to them, or whether God will accept a sacrifice at your hand? When you should grow and go forward, you will have little heart to it, because you know not whether you are yet in the way: and this will damp your life and comfort in every duty, when you must say, I know not whether yet I b: thoroughly converted. O therefore stop not the work at first. ,
· Fifthly, If the work be thoroughly done at first, you will persevere, when others fall away. You will have rooting in yourselves, entertaining the seed as into depth of earth; and you will have the Holy Ghost within you, and (more than so) engaged for your preservation, and the perfecting of your salvation: when they that received the word as seed upon a rock, and never gave it deep entertainment, will wither and fall away in the time of trial; and from them that have not saving grace, shall be taken away even that whichi they seemed to have.(z)
Sixthly, and lastly, consider, If you fall short of a true conversion at the first, the devil will take occasion by it to tempt you at last to utter despair. When you have made many essays and trials, and been about the work, again and again, he will persuade you that there is no possibility of accomplishing it. If we convince an open profane person that is unconverted, he may easier see that there is hopes of it: but if a man have been half converted, and lived long in a formal self-deceiving profession of religion, and been taken by himself and others for a godly man, as it is very hard to convince this man that he is unconverted, so when he is convinced of it, he will easily fall into desperation.-For Satan will tell him, If thou be yet unconverted after so many confessions and prayers, and after so long a course of religion, what hope canst thou have that yet it should be done? Thou wilt never have better opportunities than thou hast had. If such sermons as thou hast heard could not do it, what hope is there of it? If such books, and such company, and such mercies, and such afflictions, have not done it, what hope canst thou have? Canst thou hear any livelier teaching than thou hast heard? or speak any holier words than thou hast spoken? If yet the work be quite undone, it is not forsaking another sin, nor going a step further, that will do it: and therefore never think of it; for there is no hope. Dost thou not know how oft thou hast tried in vain?
(z) Matt. xii. 12. xxv. 39.
And what canst thou do more? And thus you give advantages to the tempter by your first delays, and taking up in mere preparatories. And therefore I beseech you, as you love your souls, take heed of resisting the Spirit of grace, and breaking off the work before it is thoroughly done; but go to the bottom, and follow it on till it be accomplished in sincerity. And now hoping, that upon these considerations you are resolved to do your best, I shall come to the thing which I principally intended: which is, to give you certain directions, which if you will obey, you may be converts and saints indeed!
Direction 1. Lest the work of conversion should miscarry where it seemeth to be begun, or in a hopeful way, I first advise you to labour after a right anderstanding of the true nature of Christianity, and the meaning of the gospel which is sent to convert you. You are naturally slaves to the prince of darkness, and live in a state of darkness, and do the work of darkness, and are hasting apace to utter darkness. And it is the light of saving knowledge that must recoter you, or there is no recovery. God is the Father of light, and dwelleth in light; Christ is the light of the world; his ministers are also the lights of the world, as under him, and are sent to turn men from darkness to light by the gospel, which is the light to our feet: and this is to make us children of light, that we may no more do the works of darkness, but may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. Believe it, darkness is not the way to the celestial glory. Ignorance is your disease, and knowledge must be your cure. I know the ignorant have many excuses, and are apt to think that the case is not so bad with them as we make it to be; and that there is no such need of knowledge, but a man may be saved without it. But this is because they want that knowledge that should show them the mercy of their ignorance, and the worth of knowledge. Hath not the scripture plainly told you, That if the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, whose minds the God of this world hath blinded,
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lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. I know that many that have much knowledge are ungodly. But what of that? Can any man therefore be godly, or be saved, without knowledge? You may have a bad servant, that yet is skilful enough in his work; but yet you will not mend the matter, by taking one that hath no skill at all. You may send a man on your errand that knows the way, and yet will not go it, but loiter and deceive you : but what of that? Will you think to mend the matter, by sending one that knoweth not a step of the way, nor will not learn it? Though a man of knowledge may be a servant of the devil, yet no man without knowledge (that hath the use of his reason) can be the servant of God. A man may go to hell with knowledge; but he certainly shall go to hell without it. I do not say that you must all.be men of learning, and skilled in the arts and sciences, and languages; but you must have the knowledge of a Christian, though not of a scholar. Can you love or serve a God that you know not? Can you let go friends, and goods, and life, for a glory which you have no knowledge of? Can you make it the principal business of your lives, to seek for a heaven whose excellencies you know not of? Can you lament your sin and misery when you are unacquainted with it? or will you strive against sin, as the greatest evil, when you know not the evil of it? Will you believe in a Christ whom you do not know, and trust your souls and all upon him? Will you rest upon a promise, or fear a threatening, or be ruled by a law, which you do not understand ? It is not possible to be Christians, without knowing the substance of Christianity; nor is it possible for you to be saved, without knowing the way of salvation.
Labour therefore to be well acquainted with the grounds, and reasons, and nature, of your religion. The clearer your light is, the warmer and livelier your hearts will be. Illumination is the first part of
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sanctification. The head is the passage to the heart. O, if you did but thoroughly know what sin is, and what a life it is to serve the flesh, and what the end of this will prove, with what detestation would you cast it away! If you did thoroughly know what a life of holiness is, how speedily would you choose it! If you did truly know what God is, how infinitely powerful, and wise, and good; how holy, and just, and true; and what title he hath to you, and authority over you, and what an eternal portion he would be to you; how is it possible that you could prefer the dirt of the world before him, or delay any longer to return unto him! If you did but truly know what Christ is, and what he hath done and suffered for you, and what that pardon, and grace, and glory, are which he hath purchased for you, and offered to you, and how sure his promise is by which it is offered; it is not possible that you should refuse to entertain him, or delay to give up your souls unto him. Do you think a man that truly knows what heaven is, and what hell is, can still be in doubt whether he should turn or not? Alas, sirs! if God would but open your eyes, to see where you are, and what you are doing, you would run as if for your lives; and quickly change your minds and ways. You would no more stay in your carnal state, than you would stay in a house that was falling down on your heads, or in a ship that you perceive sinking under you, or on the sands when you see the tide coming towards you. If your house or chamber were all in flames about you, you would not stand to ask whether you should be gone: and sure then, if you knew how the devils are about you, how they deceive you, and rule you, and wait to drag you to hell, you would never stay a night longer willingly in such a state. While men understand not what the gospel means, nor what a minister saith unto them, no wonder if they regard them not, but continue in their sin. If you see a bear or a mad dog making towards a man, and tell him of it, and call him to be gone, if he be a man of another