« VorigeDoorgaan »
any to neglect God's appointed means of operation, or presumption that they shall be added to the small list of those who have been such uncommon and astonishing trophies of the efficacy and sovereignty of divine grace.
These remarks must for the present suffice, with regard to the various occasions by which God works upon men's minds; and I hope you will excuse me, if, in illustrating some of them, I have a little anticipated some things which might have been mentioned under the third head, in which I proposed, III. To consider some varieties observable in " the manner in
which divine grace operates on the mind.”
And this variety, by the way, will be observable in many instances where the occasions are in general the same. Thus among those that are awakened by the word of God, or by his providence,-some are shaken by strong terrors ;-some are melted into deep sorrows ;-others are astonished, as it were, and captivated at once, by the discovery of the love of God in Christ ;—and others are led on by such gentle and gradual impressions, that they can hardly recollect any remarkable circuinstance at all relating to the manner in which this blessed work was begun, or conducted in their souls. ]. Some converts are “ awakened by strong terror.”
It is obvious, that conviction of sin, in some degree or another, is absolutely necessary to make way for the entrance of the gospel into the soul. But the degrees are various in different persons; and as for those of whom we now speak, God Reproves them aloud, and sets their sins in order before them*, marshals them in dreadful array, as the expression imports; so that they seem like defenceless creatures, surrounded with a whole host of enemies, whose weapons are raised for their destruction. Yea, God himself, the great, the terrible, the eternal, and omnipotent God, seems to Set them up as a mark for those arrowst, The poison of which drinketh up their spiritsf; and, as he him. self expresses it, he is unto them As a bear, or a lion, ready to tear and rend the very caul of their hearts. They come, as it were, to the trembling and terrifying mountain of Sinai, to blackness, and darkness, and tempest||. The conviction of guilt is attended with such a sense of the demerit of sin, as fills them with horror and astonishment, and engages them to wish in the bitterness of their souls, that they had never been born. They are left for a time, and that perhaps for weeks and months, to be, as it were, deafened, with the loud thunders of the law : A dreadful sound, as Eliphaz expresses it, is in their ears*, even the sentence of their own damnation ; and the awful curse of an almighty sin-avenging God Comes into their bowels like water, and like oil into their bonest. They are filled with such deep remorse for their past sins, that they verily think no iniquity was ever like theirs, and that no punishment will be like theirs. They hardly see a glimmering of hope that they shall obtain deliverance; but expect, in a very little while, to be sealed up under wrath, if they are not already so. When they hear the offers and the promises of the gospel, they can apply none of them to themselves, and find comfort in none : But every threatening and every curse of the book of God seems to have been written as their intended portion. And thus, perhaps, they continue for weeks, or for months together, expecting every day and every night that Destruction from God, which is now a terror to themi, should utterly swallow Them up, and leave them neither root nor branch, neither comfort nor hope ş. The law is a schoolmaster to bring them to Christl, and it scourges them with most rigorous discipline: Yea, the infernal lion roars over them, though he is not permitted to devour them: He particularly terrifies them when they think of approaching God, as if they were to meet with some peculiar danger there, where alone they can find their relief: Or if they do in broken accents utter their prayer before God, he seems to be shut out, and they are apprehensive that it is Turned into sin**. Yet there is one thing to be observed in the midst of this scene of horror, and it is a circumstance of great importance; “ that they justify God when he seems most inexorable, and subscribe to that sentence as righteous which dooms them to eternal ruin.” 2. Others are “ melted into deep sorrows.'
Job vi. 4.
* Psal. I. 21.
Hos. xiii. 8.
+ Lam. iii. 12.
Their Eyes run down with tears; and they are ready to wish that their head were waters, and their eyes fountains, that they might continue to weep day and nightft. They see the evil of sin, and the misery to which it has reduced them, in a most deplorable view; and it may be, while those described under the former head are ready to tremble, because they cannot weep, these are ready to weep, because they cannot tremble. They lament, among other things, the want of those strong horrors which some have felt : They cry out, “ Woe is me, for I am undone*; I have destroyed myself, and in myself is not my help foundt:” And it may be, they are a considerable time before they can persuade themselves there is any help for them, even in God. They know there is help in him through Christ for penitent and believing sinners: But they cannot easily be convinced that they believe, because they do not feel that confident trust which some others have much sooner been brought to: And they are afraid, lest whatever they experience which looks like repentance, should be only the false appearance of it, proceeding from mere self-love and a natural dread of future misery. They dwell perpetually on the dark side of things: They read over the catalogue of their iniquities again and again, and attend to those passages in which The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against every kind and degree of sint; while they are slow of heart to admit those reviving consolations which the various rich and precious promises of the gospel are so admirably well calculated to administer.
* Job xv. 21. !! Gal. iii, 24.
+ Psal. cix. 18.
Lam. iii. 8.
Job xxxi, 23, ** Psal. cix. 7.
$ Nal. iv. 1. ++ Jer. ix. 1,16.
The state of such souls, when they are first savingly enlightened, is like that of the earth, when fogs and mists have veiled the face of the sun after it is risen. But it very often happens with respect to such souls, that when these mists are at length dispersed, a very bright and cheerful day opens: They are comforted by the warmer beams of the sun of righteousness, according to the hours in which they have been beclouded, and are Made glad according to the days in which they were afflicted ş: And going on to Fear the Lord, and to obey the voice of his servant, though they have long walked in darkness, and seen no light, they are at length encouraged by his Spirit, enforcing the exhortations of his word, to trust in the name of the Lord, and stay themselves upon their God ||. 3. Some are “captivated with astonishing and delightful views
of the love of God in Christ."
There is always, as we observed before, in the awakened soul some conviction of sin and apprehension of danger ; nevertheless there are instances in which God heals almost as soon as he wounds, and speaks peace almost as soon as he speaks trouble. He graciously shortens, to some souls, the
Rom. i. 18.
* Isa. vi. 5.
+ Hos. xii. 9.
Isa. 1. 10.
pangs of the new birth, and Gives them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness*. The news of salvation by the blood, and righteousness, and grace of Christ, is received with so thankful a sense, with so joyful a compliance, that the soul, feeling beyond all doubt the cordial sincerity with which it embraces the offer is filled with Joy unspeakable and full of gloryt: The heart Does magnify the Lord, and the Spirit rejoices in God its Saviourf.
This was remarkably the case fof the Jailor, who in the very night in which he was converted, that same night in which
The foundation of his house had been shaken, and his own soul too shaken, by an earthquake, so that he had endeavoured to lay violent hands on himself: yet, I say, that very night, be. fore the day appeared, having been directed to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ that he might be saved, and been enabled by divine grace to comply with the exhortation, it is added concerning him, that he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house g.–Thus too the Thessalonians, though they Received the word in much affliction, and ran the risk of losing their possessions and their lives in adhering to it, yet received it with joy of the Holy Ghostil. And though I cannot say this is God's most ordinary way of dealing, and though I fear the counterfeit appearance of such a work as this often leaves men in the number of those whom our Lord represents by Stony ground hearers; yet it is certain some instances of this kind are still to be found. But then I must observe, this is a joy attended with the deepest humility, and animates the soul to the most ardent and affectionate resolution of Walking worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being strengthened with all might according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness**. 4. Others, and these perhaps the greatest part of such as are
religiously educated, are “ led on by such gentle and insensible degrees, that they can hardly recollect any remarkable circumstances that have attended their conversion, nor can certainly fix on the particular time of it.”
God is sometimes, as in the preceding instances, In the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire; but he is also frequently in the still small voicett. The operations of the holy Spirit on the soul are often, and perhaps generally, of such a nature, that it is difficult exactly to distinguish them from the rational exercise of our own thoughts; because the Spirit operates by suggesting rational views of things, and awakening rational affections. For whatever some have vainly and dangerously insinuated, nothing is so rational as the sentiments and temper which prevail in renewed souls, and to which it is the work of God's regenerating Spirit to bring them.
* Isa. Ixi.3. ! 1 Thes, i. 6.
+ 1 Pet.i. 8,
Matt. xii. 20, 21,
Lukei. 46, 47.
$ Acts xvi. 34.
These operations, where there is a religious education, often begin very early ; but then, in some degree, the impressions wear off from the weak and flexible mind ; and perhaps there are various instances in which they alternately revive and decay again. And this vicissitude of affectionate applications to religion, under moving ordinances, afflictions, or deliverances, and of backslidings and remissness in it, may be permitted, with respect to many, to continue for a long time. At length, under the various methods of providence and grace, the soul arrives to greater steadiness, and a more habitual victory over the remainders of indwelling sin : But it may be exceeding hard, and perhaps absolutely impossible, to determine concerning some remarkable scenes through which it has passed, whether such a one in particular, perhaps the last which strikes the memory, were the season of its new birth, or whether it were merely a recovery from such a degree of negligence and remiss. ness, as may possibly be consistent with real religion, and be found in a regenerate soul.
These balancings of backsliding and recovery often occasion very great perplexity; and such sort of converts are frequently much discouraged, because they cannot give the history of their religious experiences in so clear and distinct a manner as others; and particularly, because they have not passed through such violent terrors and agitations of mind as many, who were perhaps once sunk into much deeper degeneracy, have done. Nevertheless, where there is a consciousness of an undissembled love to God, an unreserved derotedness to his service, a cordial trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a sincere affection to mankind in general, and especially to those of the household of faith, a man onight not to perplex himself on this account. For as every man knows he was born into the world, by a consciousness that he now lives and acts here, though it is impossible he should remember any thing of the time or circumstances in which he was first produced into it: So may a christian be assured that some way or another he was born of the Spirit, if he