« AnteriorContinuar »
new birth unto righteousness, wrought in the believer's own soul by divine grace. For illustration of this, I will state a case. A person living in a christian country like our own, cannot avoid hearing of the Bible, and of the subject of it. He hears that it is called the Word of God, and that it professes to point out to mankind the way and method of salvation. This person, we may imagine, sees many round him who profess to believe the Scriptures. He sees some reputedly prudent men zealously employed in striving to bring their brethren to the belief of them, and some so fully persuaded in their own minds, that they really do take the Scriptures for the rule and guide of their conduct. This we will suppose excites his attention, and he is prevailed upon to read and hear the Scriptures for himself.
He finds in them much curious history, many strikingly valuable precepts-many wonders of various kinds; but especially, if he reads with tolerable diligence, he finds a very interesting picture of himself.
If multitudes of plain passages are to be understood according to their plain and literal meaning, then he is represented as a wretched sinner, lying under the wrath of God; morally unfit for heavenly blessedness, and unable to make himself that holy character which this same book says he ought to be. But he finds further that God is stated to have sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to die instead of sinners, and to purchase pardon, and eternal glory for as many as shall take him for their Saviour. That he afterwards rose from the grave, went up into heaven, and thence sent down the Holy Ghost to be a principle of new life in the hearts of sinners, to sanctify and cleanse their very natures, to enable them to love and to practise godliness, and to hate and eschew iniquity, and so to make them meet, or qualify them, for tasting the pure and holy pleasures which are at God's right hand for ever.
This a diligent inquirer will find to be contained in Scripture. Having found it, he
may despise it, as many do—he may see nothing in it that is interesting to himself, or he may persuade himself that the literal and obvious sense of the passages is not the true meaning, but that they may be explained to mean something very different--though he cannot at present see clearly how that is to be done. But, on the other hand, it may please God to bless his reading to him, and if it does, he will assuredly feel at least some alarm at the thought of continuing in his present state, and some desire to be more fully instructed in the way of coming to God by Christ. Conscience will tell him that he is certainly sinner, and being afraid of the wrath to come, he will resolve and strive (at first, in all likelihood,
very much in his own strength) to turn from sin to godliness. When he does this, provided it be really godliness and not half godliness that he aspires after, he will find much difficulty, and will be sensible of a strange unwillingness in his own mind to pursue the path which his judgment tells him it is his own interest as much as his duty to pursue.
He will then discover something of the meaning of those texts of Scripture which speak of “ another law in the members warring against the law of the mind," and of evil being present with him who would do good. He will more than suspect that the strong declarations of man's natural corruption, with which the Bible abounds, are indeed most true in their full extent, and that if he would repent and turn to God, he must humbly ask for strength from above. Thus he will learn to pray ; and if he have grace to pray, he will assuredly receive an answer to his prayers. God will send his Holy Spirit to renew him in the spirit of his mind. Most likely he will not understand God's dealings with him at the time; nor will there ever be any rule given him by which he is to distinguish the work of the Spirit from the operations of his own mind. But, upon reflection, he will be conscious that a great change hath taken place in his views, disposition, and affections : He will be conscious that he does not now see in worldly things that importance which he used to see in them, that he does not feel that anxiety about them which he used to feel. He will be sensible that Christ and his gospel, of which he once heard with much indifference, are now his delight and his confidence; that anchor of his soul, sure and stedfast, which he must not, will not, part with for all that the world can offer him. He will be sensible that he now sets a value upon God's ordinances, and feels a pleasure in them very different from that slavish formality with which he was wont to attend upon them. He will be sensible that he fears, hates, and loathes sin, and thirsts and hungers after righteousness, as he did not formerly. His conscience will testify that he does not allow himself in the commission of any known sin, and that where he does slip, through surprise, though it be but a little, he is more grieved and angry with himself than he would have been in time past, on account of a much greater sin. So he sees that there is a change, and he well remembers that in order that this change might be progressively for the better, he has been obliged all along to wait upon God for strength; and that he has grown in godliness just in proportion to the fixedness of his reliance. When he has intermitted in his determination to seek the Lord, he has faltered and often fallen.
But with the spirit of supplication his vigour hath returned. Does the disputer of this world think that he can persuade this man that holy Scripture is a forgery? that he can make him believe that Christ hath not died, that he hath not risen again, that He is not even now at God's right hand, that He doth not make intercession for us ? that He hath not led captivity captive, hath not received gifts for men ; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell among
them? If he does think so, he is much mistaken. This man hath his answer ready. “With meekness and fear” he can reply to any one who asketh him a reason of the hope that is in him. Why does he believe the Scriptures? Can he answer all the cavils and objections which infidels have brought against them? Very probably he cannot. But he hath good cause to be assured that they are but cavils ; for he hath a witness in himself which tells him so. Did he behold the miracles? No; neither would it greatly add to his confidence if he could behold them. For he hath more to say. He hath experienced and felt the miracle ;-the great miracle of religion wrought by grace-the resurrection from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. God promiseth his holy Spirit to them that ask him ; he hath asked, and he hath received. He knows, for he hath tasted, that the Lord is good.