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SERM. or profane minds, who will believe nothing but what they can
see with their eyes, or what is agreeable to their own corrupt
taste of things; who will (with Nicodemus) not only say, How 9.]
can these things be? but despise those whose duty it is to press the consideration of them upon their hearers.
It is for this reason, good Christians, that I have made choice of these words of Christ, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth : so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” I have made choice of these words, in order to establish you in the truth, and to convince you, that the ordinances of God are attended with as certain effects as any thing in nature: and that the fruits of the Spirit, in all faithful Christians, may as plainly be perceived as the wind when it blows, or the sun when it shines.
It is true, we are to live by faith, and not by sight; we are to make use of the means of grace which God has ordained, and we are to trust His word and promise, that He will bestow the graces which He has assured us shall attend His ordinances; but then, though the grace be invisible, the fruits
thereof are easily discerned. Acts 2. 38. Thus we are “baptized for the remission of sins." Here
is an outward visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. But then this grace becomes visible in the lives of all such as are truly regenerate. It is easily seen who have, and who have not, retained the Spirit of God communicated unto them
in baptism. The children of God, and the children of the 1 John 3. devil, are as manifest as light is from darkness. “ He that
doeth righteousness is of God,” saith St. John: "and he that doeth not righteousness is not of God.”
And here, good Christians, take notice, once for all, of what the word of God, as well as sad experience, assures us; that we are born in sin; that we are by nature liable to the wrath of God; that of ourselves we are not able to think one good thought, much less are we able to help ourselves out of this sad condition.
But then, God of His infinite mercy has delivered us out of this sad estate. We are reconciled unto God by the death of His Son, who, that He may fit us for heaven and happiness, hath appointed several ordinances, in the due use of
which we may certainly expect the assistance of His Spirit, to renew our nature, and to restore us to the image of God, from which we are sadly fallen.
And though these ordinances, and the instruments He makes use of, have no manner of virtue in themselves, to renew and to restore us to the favour of God; and though the power that accompanies them be as invisible as the wind; yet the effect and blessing that attends the due use of them is as certain as that God is true.
Thus, for instance, He has appointed certain persons, men of like infirmities with yourselves, to be His ministers or stewards. To them He has committed the word of reconcilia- [2 Cor. 6.
19.] tion, and the several ordinances which He has appointed to make it effectual.
By virtue of this commission, they baptize your children, by which they are made members of Christ's Church, children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven.
By virtue of the same commission, they endeavour to fit them for confirmation, that they may thereby receive the Holy Spirit, by which they are sealed unto the day of redemption, and are enabled to pass through a corrupt world, and to escape from their most powerful enemies.
And lastly, because by reason of the frailty of our nature we are but too apt to fall, by virtue of this commission, these ministers of Christ restore you again by a godly discipline, absolving those that are truly penitent, and sealing their pardon by administering unto them the body and blood of Christ, by which alone we obtain remission of our sins. Well now; will you,
because these ministers of God are men like yourselves, will you despise their ministry, and the favours offered you by their hands; and refuse to be reconciled to God by their means? Or will you despise the ordi. nances of God, because the graces that attend them are invisible? Will you, because some profane person may say, what signifies a little water ? will you therefore refuse to baptize your children? Or because another, as ignorant and profane, shall ask you, what will you be the better for the bishop's blessing, and the laying his hands upon you ? will you therefore despise confirmation, though it is an ordinance of the Church ?
SERM. To proceed : because bread and wine are common things, LXXXI.
and every body can take, and eat, and drink of them, will you therefore despise these creatures, when they are consecrated in the Lord's Supper by His ministers appointed thereunto?
It is true, the graces that accompany all these holy ordinances are not visible, no more is God that bestows them; and yet we believe Him to be; and have not we His word and ordinance for the truth of these things?
And are there not many holy persons, (the Lord increase their number !) who, by the use of these ordinances, being rescued out of the power and snare of the devil, do very sensibly perceive the work of the Spirit of God in their hearts, and the fruits of it in their lives. And, on the other hand, are there not men given up to a reprobate mind, who are incapable of advice, and commit all iniquity with greediness?
Do but consider the reason of this. They are as much in their senses as other men. They have heard it over and over again, that eternal misery is like to be their portion; and yet they go on without fear, and without concern. And the reason is, they have grieved the good Spirit of God, by -which they had been sealed unto the day of redemption; the Spirit of the Lord has forsaken them, and an evil spirit has taken possession of them; and though they can see
neither the one nor the other, yet the effects are plain : [Matt. 12. “ The tree is known by its fruits ;” and by the life any man
leads, it is easily seen what spirit governs him.
I have used all these arguments to secure you from a spirit of error and wickedness too frequent in the world, which would persuade men to believe nothing but what they see with their eyes ; who, because they have driven the Spirit of God from them, and no longer feel His power in themselves, do therefore deride it in all others; who despise public ordinances, and would bring us back into the state of heathens who know not God.
But ye, good Christians, have been taught better things. (John 3. 7.) Your Saviour tells you, “that ye must be born again," or
else you can neither be holy here, nor happy hereafter: man by nature being born in sin, and utterly incapable of reforming himself without the divine assistance.
And this is what I design to explain to you, that you may acknowledge the grace of God, and be careful not to grieve (Eph. 4. that Holy Spirit by which you are sanctified.
I. And in the first place, take notice, that the great design of the Christian religion is, to recover man from the state of corruption, into which he is fallen, to a state of perfection, and to secure him in it, until God thinks fit to call him out of this world to a much better.
Now, this cannot be done BUT BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD. Neither the law of Moses, nor the law of nature; no, not the state of innocence, was sufficient to direct and secure man from falling, without an especial grace of God.
The Jews had a law both holy, just, and good, and yet they became a most, wicked people. The Gentiles had all the advantages of reason and learning, and yet they fell into the most monstrous sins.
St. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, is forced to put both Jews and Gentiles in mind of this, that he might more effectually recommend the grace of God afforded in the Gospel to all true believers.
And indeed Jesus Christ did not come into the world, till the fulness of time; that is, until the whole world were, or might have been convinced, that there was need of further help to save them from ruin, and to make them perfect, besides their own free will, their reason, or learning, or the best law that could be given them. And this must be the work of the Holy Ghost alone.
For this end we are dedicated to the Holy Ghost in baptism, that He may take us under His especial care ; that He may enlighten our understandings with saving knowledge; that He may subdue our wills to the will of God; and that He may change our affections, from following after vanity, to love those things which are above; that being made par- (2 Pet. 1. takers of a divine nature, God may own us for His children, and, when we die, give us an inheritance with the saints in glory,
In short; this is the great rule of the Gospel : “Without Heb. 12. 14. holiness no man shall see the Lord.” “They that are led (Rom. 8.
14.] by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God,” being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. To them, and to them only, belongs the inheritance.
And this is the reason that I would persuade you all, good Christians, not to deceive yourselves, or to place the new birth we are speaking of in any thing but in a new life. This is what all the ordinances of God aim at.
We are therefore baptized, that, being within the covenant of grace, we may have the assistance of God's Spirit to enable us to become new creatures. And if we value baptism upon any other account, we mistake the end of that ordinance.
II. Confirmation is an holy usage, received from the Apostles; and very wrong it would be to neglect it. But then those that come not to be confirmed, with full purposes, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, of keeping the vows that they take upon them, are in as ill an estate as if they had never been confirmed.
III. We look upon prayer as a most necessary duty, and so indeed it is. But then a Christian would be sadly mistaken, if he should conclude himself to be a new creature, and in the favour of God, purely because he prays, unless he finds the fruits of his prayers in being better able to subdue his corrupt affections by the Spirit of God, which God vouchsafes to all that pray to Him in sincerity.
IV. Hearing the Word of God is a necessary duty ;-nobody denies it. But if a Christian, when he has heard the manner of his redemption, the sins he is to avoid, and the duties he is to practise ; if he grows no better, if the work of holiness does not go forward, it is a sure sign he mistakes the very end of hearing.
V. The Lord's Supper is truly esteemed one of the most solemn ordinances of the Christian religion, and a testimony of our being in communion with Christ and with His Church. But now, if a Christian, in unity with the Christian Church, does not live as becomes a member of Christ, he condemns himself, and eats and drinks his own destruction.
In one word; Christians should be very careful not to place holiness in actions which do not make us one jot the better. A wicked unregenerate man can do all these things, as to outward appearance, as well as the most holy.
Let me therefore just set before you the true marks of holiness, that you may always remember in what it consists.