« הקודםהמשך »
EARLY beloved and longed for, I gladly acknowledge myself a debtor to you all, and am concerned, as I would be found a good steward to the household of God, to give to every one his portion; but the physician is most solicitous for those patients whose case is most hazardous; and the father's bowels are especially turned towards his dying child; the numbers of unconverted souls call for my most earnest compassion; and therefore to these, first, I shall apply myself.
But, Lord, wherewith shall I woo them? Wherewith shall I win them? O that I could but tell! I would write unto them in tears; I would weep out every argument, verily (were I able) I would: O how thankful would I be, if they would be prevailed with to repent and turn! But, Lord, how insufficient am 1 for this work! Lord, what a task hast thou sent me to do! Alas, wherewith shall I make the heart to feel that is hard as a piece of the nether millstone! Shall I go and lay my mouth to the grave, and look when the dead will obey me, and come forth ? Shall I give the blind to see? From the beginning of the world was it ever heard that a man opened the eyes of the blind? But thou, O Lord, canst pierce the scales and prick the heart of the sinner: I can but draw the bow at a venture, but do thou direct the arrow
between the joints of the harness, kill the sin, and save the soul of a sinner that casts his eyes on these labours."
But some of you do not know what is meant by conversion; and therefore, for your sakes, I shall show what conversion is. Others cherish secret hopes of mercy, though they continue as they are: and for them I must show the necessity of conversion. Others harden themselves with a vain conceit that they are converted already: unto them I must show the marks of the unconverted. Others, because they feel no harm, fear none, and so sleep upon the top of the mast: to them I shall show the misery of the unconverted. Others sit still, because they see not their way out: to them I shall show the means of conversion. And, finally, for the quickening of all, I shall close with the motives to conversion.
Showing what CONVERSION is not.
Let the blind Samaritans worship they know not what-John iv. 22. Let the heathen Athenians superscribe their altar unto the unknown God-Acts xvii. 23. They that know man's constitution, cannot but know that the understanding having the empire in the soul, he that will go rationally to work must labour to let in the light here. Therefore, that you may not mistake me, I shall show you what I mean by the conversion I persuade you to endeavour after.
The devil hath made many counterfeits of conversion, and cheats one with this, and another with that; and such craft and artifice he hath, that (if it were possible) he would deceive the very elect. Now, that I may cure the damnable mistakes of some who think they are converted, when they are not, I shall show you the nature of conversion, both what it is not, and what it is.
1. It is not the taking upon us the profession of Christianity. Doubtless Christianity is more than a
name: If we will hear Paul, it lies not in word but in power, 1 Cor. iv. 20. If to cease to be Jews and Pagans, and to put on the Christian profession, had been true conversion, who better Christians than they of Sardis and Laodicea ? These were all Christians by profession, and had a name to live; but because they had but a name, are condemned by Christ. Are there not many that mention the name of the Lord Jesus, that yet depart not from iniquity? And will God receive these for true converts ? What! converts from sin, when they yet live in sin! We find not only professors, but preachers of Christ, and wonder-workers, turned off because evil workers, Matt. vii. 22, 23.
2. It is not the being washed in the laver of regeneration, or putting on the badge of Christ in baptism. Many wear the livery of Christ, that yet never stand to their colours, nor follow their Leader. Ananias and Sapphira were baptized as well as the rest. How fondly do many mistake here, deceiving and being deceived ! dreaming that grace is necessarily tied to the external administration of baptism, and so every infant shall be regenerated, not only sacramentally, but really and properly. Hence men fancy, that being regenerated already when baptized, they need no farther work.
Friends and brethren, be not deceived, God is not mocked, Gal. vi. 7. Whether it be your baptism, or whatever else that you pretend, I tell you from the living God, that if any of you be prayerless persons, or unclean, or malicious, or covetous, or riotous, or a scoffer, or a lover of evil company; in a word, if you are not holy, strict, and self-denying Christians, you cannot be saved.
3. It lies not in a moral righteousness. This exceeds not the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and therefore cannot bring us to the kingdom of God. St. Paul, while unconverted, touching the righteonsness which is in the law was blameless. The . Pharisee could say, I am no extortioner, adulterer, unjust. Thou must have something more than all this
to show, or else (however thou mayest justify thyself) God will condemn thee; I condemn not morality, but warn you not to rest here: piety includes morality, as Christianity doth humanity; and grace includes reason; but we must not divide the tables.
4. It consists not in an external conformity to the rules of piety. 'Tis too manifest men may have a form of godliness, without the power. Men may pray long, and fast often, and hear gladly, and be very forward in, the service of God, though costly and expensive, (Isa. i. 11.) and yet be strangers to conversion: ihey must have more to plead for themselves, than that they keep their church, give alms, and make use of prayer, to prove themselves sound converts; no outward service, but a hypocrite may do it, even to the giving all his goods to feed the poor, 1 Cor. xiii. 3.
5. It lies not in the chaining up of corruption by education, human laws, or affliction. Tis common to mistake education for grace; but if this were enough, who a better man than Jehoash? While Jehoiada his uncle lived, he was very forward in God's service, But here was nothing more than good education; for when his good tutor was taken out of the way, he appears to have been but a wolf chained up, and falls to idolatry.
6. It consists not in conviction, in a superficial change or partial reformation. A Felix máy tremble under conviction, and a Herod amend many things. 'Tis one thing to have sin alarmed by convictions, and another to have it captivated and crucified by con: verting grace. Many, because they have been trou. bled for their sins, think well of their case, miserably mistaking conviction for conversion. Others think, that because they have given off their riotous courses, and are broken off from evil company, and reduced to sobriety, they are now real converts, forgetting that there is a vast difference between being sanctified and civilized; and that many seek to enter into the kingdom of heaven, and are not far from it, and arrive to the almost of Christianity, Acts xxvi. 28. and yet fall short at last. While conscience holds the whip over them,' many will pray, 'hear, read, and forbear their delightful sins: but no sooner is the lion asleep, but they are at their vomit again. Who more religious than the Jews, when God's hand was upon them? Yet no sooner was the affliction over, but they forgot God, and showed their religion to be a fit.
Hear then, O sinners. Why would you wilfully deceive yourselves, and build your hopes upon the sand! I know he shall find hard work of it that goes to pluck away your hopes. It cannot but be ungrateful to you, and truly it is not pleasing to me. I set about it as a surgeon, when he is to cut off a putrified member from his well-beloved friend, which of force he must do, though with an aching heart, and a trembling hand. But understand me, brethren, I am only taking down the ruinous house, (which will otherwise speedily fall of itself, and bury you in the rubbish,) that I may build it fair, strong, and firm for ever. The hope of the wicked shall perish. And badst thou not better, 0 sinner, let the word convince thee now in time, and let go thy false hopes, than have death to open thine eyes, and find thyself in hell before thou art aware? Let your conscience speak: What is it that you have to plead for yourselves? Is it that you wear Christ's livery? that you bear his name? that you are of the church? that you have knowledge in the points of religion? are civilized, perform religious duties, are just in your dealings, have been troubled in conscience for your sins? I tell you, from the Lord, these pleas will never be accepted at God's bar; all this, though good in itself, will not prove you converted, and so will not suffice to your salvation. O! bethink yourselves of turning speedily and soundly; set to praying, and to reading and studying your own hearts; rest not till God: bath made thorough work with you: for you must be other men, or else you are lost men. :
But if these be short of conversion, what shall I say of the profane sinner? :) He must know from the Lord