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as God's decree in choosing Jacob and rejecting Esau is most free, and without relation to any good or evil done by them; so the execution of that decree in conferring grace upon one, and withholding it from the other, is equally free and irrespective.
3 Observ. arising from the words, which I intend more fully to prosecute, is this:
That God's denial of such a disposition of soul, such a perceiving heart, does certainly infer the unsuccessfulness of all the means of grace. I
say, it does infer it, not cause it, as I shall de-, monstrate by and by.
In the handling of this, I shall shew,
I. What is meant by God's giving to the soul a perceiving heart.
II. Whence it is, that without this gift the soul cannot make any saving improvement of the means of
III. I shall shew, that although, upon God's denial of a perceiving heart, the soul does inevitably remain unprofitable under the means of grace, so as not to hear nor perceive, yet this hardness or unprofitableness cannot at all be ascribed to God as the author of it.
IV. I shall shew, how God can rationally reprehend a soul for not embracing the means of grace, when he denies it a heart, by which alone it can be enabled so to do. The necessity of clearing this I take from the strain of the words, which run in the nature of a reprehension ; and this always supposes a fault as the ground and foundation of it. But if God denies a hearing ear and a perceiving heart, it may seem not to be the soul's fault, if it does not hear nor perceive.
Having despatched these in their order, I shall proceed to the uses that may be drawn from hence.
I. Concerning the first; what is meant by God's giving to the soul a perceiving heart. We have grace here set out by such acts as are properly acts of knowledge ; as understanding, seeing, hearing; not because, as some imagine, grace is placed only in the understanding, which, being informed with such a principle, is able to govern, and practically to determine the will, without the help of any new principle infused into that. For grace is an habit equally placed in both these faculties, but it is expressed by the acts of the understanding.
1. Because the understanding has the precedency and first stroke in holy actions, as well as in others; it is the head and fountain from whence they derive their goodness, the leading faculty: and therefore the works of all the rest may, by way of eminence, be ascribed to this, as the conquest of an army is ascribed to the leader only, or general.
2. Because the means of grace are chiefly and most frequently expressed by the word of truth; 1 Tim. i. 15, This is a faithful (or a true) saying, that Christ came into the world to save sinners. And in John iii. 33, He that believeth hath set to his seal that God is true. And in John xvii. 17, Thy word is truth. Now, since the understanding is that faculty whose proper office it is to close in with truth as such, the receiving or embracing the means of grace, which are called truth, is most properly set forth by the acts of the understanding.
I shall now endeavour to shew, from some places in scripture, what is to be here understood by a perceiving heart and an hearing ear. Johnvi.45, Every
one that hath heard, and learned of the Father, cometh unto me. Such an hearing of God's will as is attended with the learning of it, such a learning of it as powerfully brings the soul to God, is that alone which Christ esteems effectual. John v. 25, The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. Such an hearing as enlivens a dead soul, as conveys into it a spiritual vigour, declaring itself in spiritual operations; this only, in God's account, is hearing. Again, in Acts ii. 37, When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said, Men and brethren, what shall we do? To hear, so as to be throughly and deeply affected with a sense of sin; so as to be put upon an immediate inquiry and endeavour for the securing our eternal state; this is properly to hear and to perceive. To hear, so as in practice to follow and prosecute the things we hear; this only is hearing in a scripture sense. Thus Moses is said to have hearkened to his father-in-law, because he followed his counsel; and Rehoboam is said not to have hearkened to his old counsellors, because he never practised their advice. In short, in Matthew xiii. we have an account of the nature of hearing, which then only is true and genuine, when it ends in the bringing forth of fruit. Wherefore so to hear God's will, as spiritually to understand it; so to understand it, as to be really affected with it; so to entertain it in our affections, as to manifest it in our actions; and so to act, as to continue in a steady, fruitful perseverance, is that alone that can justly be reputed hearing; otherwise, upon a defect of these, it is all one to the soul, as if it had not heard at all; nay, in some respects much worse.
From hence, therefore, I collect,
1. That to understand and receive the word, according to the letter and notion, by a bare assent to the truth of it, is not to have an heart to perceive, nor an ear to hear: because it is evident, both from scripture and ordinary observation, that such a reception of the means of grace is not always attended with these spiritual effects : as for instance, the Jews heard Christ, and admired him, but afterwards they rejected his doctrine, and crucified his person. Who more versed in the law and the oracles of God than the scribes and pharisees? yet we may easily gather from the whole course of our Saviour's carriage towards them, that he looked upon them as men ignorant of God. The papists indeed make saving faith to be only an assent of the understanding to gospeltruths; according to whose tenets a man may
believe like a saint, and practise like a devil. In short, there is nothing more common than to see men of rare knowledge and raised speculations in the things of God, yet not at all to have any relish and savour of them upon their hearts and affections. So that their practices oftentimes bid defiance to their knowledge ; for they never knew God, so as to obey him; and therefore, in effect, never knew him at all. To hear the word of God, and to hear God speaking in his word, are things vastly different.
2. Therefore, in the second place, to have a perceiving heart and an hearing ear, is to have a spiritual light begot in the mind by an immediate, overpowering work of the Spirit, whereby alone the soul is enabled to apprehend and discern the things of God spiritually, and to practise them effectually : and without this, we may see and see, and never per
ceive, and hear again and again, and never understand. Christ may discourse with us as he did with those two disciples going to Emmaus, and in the mean time our eyes may be so held, as not to discern him. For, as the apostle says, the natural man cannot apprehend these things, because they are spiritually discerned. And the reason of this is clear, even from nature; because, in order to apprehension, there must be a peculiar suitableness between the object and the faculty. Things sensible must be apprehended by sense; things intelligible, by the understanding and the reason : and so things spiritual, by some spiritual principle that is infused into the soul from above. And look, as the inferior faculty cannot apprehend the proper, formal objects of the superior, sense cannot reach up to the things of reason; so neither can reason take in or perceive those objects which properly belong to this spiritual principle. Hence it is, that some souls can discern that spiritual, secret, persuading force in the word, that shall strongly engage and almost constrain the affections to embrace and follow it: so that the whole man is insensibly fashioned and moulded into it, while others, void of this spiritual, discerning faculty, feel no such force and power in it. Some also, from the help of this, spy out that true loveliness and beauty in the ways of God, as to enamour them to a practice of them, and that even with delight: while others, void of this power, do indeed see and behold those ways, but see no beauty in them why they should desire them. Hence two sit together, and hear the same sermon; one finds an hidden, spiritual virtue in the word, by which he lives, and grows, and thrives: another finds no such extraordi