« AnteriorContinuar »
prehensions of its evil and danger: but now he is fully convinced, that it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God. The world and its enjoyments once glared in his imagination ; now he is firmly persuaded, that they are so vain as to be unfit for his portion. He thought well of himself; but now he sees, that he is “poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked;” Light bearing in, and the mind being fixed in attention, he discerns the great corruption of his heart, and the badness of the principles and ends which governed him in the appearances of goodness, upon which he valued himself before. And so the excellency and suitableness of Christ, in all his offices, and the necessity of real, inward holiness, appear in quite another manner to his soul than hitherto. And hereupon, 2. The practical judgment is altered. This light, shining with clearness and strength into the mind, unsettles and changes the whole practical judgment, by which a man suffered himself to be governed before, in the matters of his soul: He judges those truths of religion to be real, which once had no more force with him than doubtful conclusions; and accordingly he cannot satisfy himself any longer barely not to disbelieve them, but gives a firm and lively assent to them. It may be heretofore he could not withhold a fluctuating, occasional assent to the evil of sin, and the vanity of the world, when he was forced to employ a thought about them; but in truth his ordinary practical judgment was much stronger the other way: now he knows and feels the bitterness of sin, and that all the world cannot quiet conscience, or satisfy his desires, when he is become thoroughly awake: he sees those things to be most valuable, in which once he saw no comeliness, or none in comparison with other things; for the scales are turned; as the apostle says of himself, Phil. iii. 7. “What things were gain to me, those have I counted loss for Christ.” The different view he hath of his own case, alters his value for the remedy: now he values a Saviour above all the world, as a man in miserable captivity would value a redeemer, or as a dying malefactor would esteem a pardon. Formerly he preferred those things, which would promote the interest of the body, or the gratification of the flesh ; and reckoned those the worst evils, which touched him in his bodily ease or pleasure, or worldly repu. tation ; but his estimate of things is now measured most by
the relation they bear to the interests of his soul. Instead of valuing most a day of diversion, or of worldly gain ; "a day in God's courts is better than a thousand elsewhere," Psal.' lxxxiv. 10. And he esteems the reproach of Christ, reproach with Christ, more than all the treasures of Egypt, Heb. xi. 26.
3. A new turn is given to the reasoning faculty, and a new use made of it. When the word of God is mighty., it casts down imaginations; so we render the original word, 2 Cor. x. 5. It properly signifies reasonings. Not that the faculty itself is altered ; or that when men begin to be religious, they lay aside reasoning: then in truth they act with the highest reason ; they reason most justly and most worthy of their natures. But now the wrong biass, which was upon the reasoning faculty, from old prejudices and headstrong inclinations, is in a good measure taken off; so that, instead of its being pressed at all adventures into the service of sin, it is employed a better way, and concludes with more truth and impartiality. The unrenewed mind is ready to catch at any plausible pretence, in favour of what is loved and liked; and to take advantage even from the plainest truths of the gospel, which in their just consequence have the greatest influence upon holiness, to make conscience easier in sin. But when the soul begins to be released from its entanglements, the reasoning will be in a very different strain. The gospel proclaims these glad tidings, that "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," Rom. v. 20. A presumptuous sinner is ready to draw this rash conclusion from it, M Let us continue in sin that grace may abound," Rom. vi. 1r "God forbid," says the enlightened mind, "the grace of God, which hath appeared to all men, teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts," Tit. ii. 11, 12. "The goodness of God leadeth to repentance," Rom. ii. 4. Suppose this principle under consideration, "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save even the chief of sinners:" The one infers some hope from this, though he should still go on in the way of his evil heart: the other considers Christ's design, that he came to "save us from our sins," Matt. i. 21, and therefore infers his own obligation to "live no longer the rest of his time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God," 1 Pet. iv. 2. When a resolved sinner meets with such a declaration as that, "Many will seek
to enter in at the strait gate, and shall not be able,” he may rashly collect that from it, which makes him more desperate in his rebellion: but a serious mind will make this properimprovement of it; therefore I must “strive in earnest to enter in,” Luke xiii. 24. and not content myself faintly to seek it. On the other hand, a presumptuous sinner, when he reads of the thief on the cross being made a monument of grace in his last moments, encourages himself in his present impenitency with the hope of a death-bed repentance: but a man, who is
truly awakened, will make no farther conclusion from this in
stance, than that God can make an example of his grace, when and where he pleases: he will not presume, that he may depend upon the same grace in his last hours, if he shall continue to harden himself under a course of means to bring him to repentance; or that one of the miracles of Christ's death shall be repeated for him in the ordinary state of things; or that he shall certainly share in like merey, when he knows not but death may surprise him without any notice, and without giving him opportunity to shew such an illustrious instance of faith, as the dying thief expressed. 4. There is an alteration in a man's governing aim, or chief end. This is like the centre, to which all inferior aims and particular pursuits tend. The original end of a reasonable creature must be to enjoy the favour of God as his supreme happiness, to be acceptable and pleasing to him. By the disposition of depraved nature we are gone off from this centre, and have changed our biass, from God to created good, to the pleasing of the flesh, to the gratification of our own humour, or to the obtaining of some present satisfaction, according to the prevailing dictate of fancy or appetite. This makes the greatest turn that can be in the spirit of the mind: all must be out of course, till this be set right. Now it is the most essential part of the new nature, to bring a sinner in this respect to himself, that is, to bring him back to God. All the light he receives, all the rectification of his judgment, is in order to this; and when this is well settled, every thing else, which was out of course before, will return to its right channel. A man is not a true Christian, till it be become his highest ambition to be acceptable to his Lord, 2 Cor. v. 9. Then his soul will give suffrage to the Psalmist's choice, Psal. lxxiii. 25. “Whom have I in heaven but thee 2 and there is
none upon earth that I desire beside thee." Others arc wearying themselves in quest of happiness, from one thing to another, as uncertain where to fix for finding it: repeated disappointments lead them often to change their course and their aim; when one thing answers not expectation, they hope to make amends by a new pursuit; but still they continue within the enchanted circle of worldly good. A true Christian, on the contrary, writes vanity upon all things below; they will not satisfy him: and therefore he is come to a point where to fix his happiness: "The Lord is the portion of his inheritance." Here he rests, and is determined to pursue his favour as his supreme good and last end.
5. There is hereupon a new determination to such a course of acting, as will most effectually secure this end. As long as this world is the chief good, which a man has in view, he contrives the best ways he can think of, to promote his particular ends in it. But when the favour of God comes to have the principal share in his esteem, he carefully examines, and heartily consents to the prescribed terms of making that sure. Now he is desirous to be found in Christ upon any terms. He arises and returns to his Father, "with full purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord," Acts xi. 23. He engages in wisdom's ways in earnest, with a resolution like that of the Psalmist, Psal. cxix. 106. "I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments." There is no known duty, but he determines to be found in the practice of it; even the most difficult and hazardous, the most self-denying and ungrateful to flesh and blood. Spiritual and holy exercises, for which he had no gust before, are chosen for his delightful employment, as most subservient to his new end. The language of his heart is, "I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever; I will call upon him, as long as I live." And his resolutions are equally firm and impartial against sin, every known sin. "I am purposed, that even my mouth shall not transgress," Psal. xvii. 3. This is a new temper of soul; either the reverse of his former resolutions, or very different from them in firmness and stability, being made in earnest and with his whole heart: whereas, before his goodness was as the morning cloud, or as the early dew, which passes away. And yet his purposes are not made in his own strength, which it may be, was one grand defect in those that he formerly made under some ineffectual convictions; but in dependence upon the grace of Christ.
6. The exercise of the affections becomes very different. A change wall appear in this respect, through the different turns of his condition, as well as in the prevailing tenor of his practice. While a man is a stranger to God, and blind to the interests of his soul, he is little concerned how matters he between God and him. But a sinner come to himself, is most tenderly concerned at any thing, that renders his interest in God doubtful, or brings his covenant-relation into question; and nothing sets the springs of godly sorrow flowing so much, as the consciousness of guilt, or of any unworthy behaviour to God. And on the other hand, though he be not got above all relish for the comforts of a present life; yet he has the most lively and lasting taste of spiritual blessings. He rejoices most in a solid hope of God's special favour through Christ, in any conquest he can discern over sin and temptation, in the progress of the divine life, and in the foretastes of glory. He reflects with satisfaction only upon those religious exercises, wherein he has found pious and devout affections in his own breast, and some testimonies that God has accepted his offering. The good laid up for him in the .promises of God, yields more refreshment to his soul, than all the worldly good he has in possession. And when his outward circumstances can minister least to his satisfaction, yet he can find rest to his soul in his God, Hab. iii. 17, 18. "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut oft' from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."
Those who have learned Christ to saving purpose, are not, as I apprehend, strangers to some such change in the spirit of their mind, as has been described. It will be our wisdom then to bring all home by proper reflections.
1. Let us seriously examine our own minds, whether we can discern such an alteration made in our spirit. I am far from saying, that it is necessary to the well-grounded hope of all, that they should be able to discern the time, when this change began to be made; or that they can remember the