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That man would certainly be accounted very inconsiderate, and vain in his expectations, that should sit still and refuse to seek after and provide his necessary food; because he reads that Elijah was fed by ravens, and the clouds rained down manna on the Israelites. And is it not every whit as wild and unjustifiable, for men to neglect the means of grace, and expect to be converted by some miraculous appearance of Christ from heaven, because the Apostle Paul was so? or to promise themselves that they shall be renewed suddenly on their death-bed, because the thief on the cross was suddenly changed in his last moments ?
He that can be so wretchedly misled, as in this last case, may as well advance one step farther, and promise himself that he shall go to heaven without seeing death; because he reads of one, that in a fiery chariot was taken up thither. Yea, I will venture to say, that on this account, he has more reason to expect a translation, than he has to look for such a miraculous renovation: Because he has two instances of persons being taken to heaven without dying; (viz. Enoch and Elias); but he has only one instance in the whole Bible, of a conversion so extraordinary as that of the crucified malcfuctor.
Let the new Birth I have been explaining, be looked upon then, as a change that is generally wrought by the outward and ordinary means of grace. And let it be considered, that there is no case in which those means would fail of obtaining such an end, could we procure the blessing of God in and with them.
From hence we may safely conclude,
1. That men ought to apply themselves, with great diligence, to these appointed means.
As we learn from what has been said, that none should encourage themselves to hope for extraordinary grace, in the neglect of the common and ordinary method of salvation; so no man can reasonably hearken to despondent thoughts, whilst he does, in a way of duty, cry to God for renewing grace and
mercy. What means are to be used, and what method we are to take in our applications to God, I shall lay before you in the 3d chapter: My business here, is only to establish this conclusion,.... That we ought to look upon the new Birth, as a change that may be attained by us; and so to seek after it with suitable concern and diligence.
And if this was not really the case, wherefore should God call upon those that are in a state of corruption, to cast away from them all their trangressions, Ezek. xviii. 31. and to make them new hearts and new spirits ? Wherefore should he declare with so much solemnity, As I live I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and Ch. xxxiii. 11. live? And then, wherefore should he call after sinners with so much importunity, Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die? Wherefore should our SAVIOUR put men upon striving to enter in at the strait Matth. vii. 7. gate? And bids us ask, seek, and knock; assuring us that God gives the Spirit to them that Luke xi. 13. believingly and importunately ask him? Wherefore should one apostle urge us, to work out Philip.' ii. 12. our salvation with fear and trembling?, and another, to draw nigh to GOD, as one that is James iv. 8. willing and ready to draw righ to us? Wherefore, I say, should these scriptures, and many others of the like import, speak to us in such a manner, if the change I have described, were not attainable in the use of ordinary means?
But possibly it may be said, can a man do any thing toward his own Birth, or Creation, or Resurrection, by all which this change is described? To this it is readily answered, that we are actually called upon so to do. Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and CHRIST Eph. v. 14. shall give thee life. Metaphors are generally made use of in scripture with some one considerable view; and to give light in some particular matter, for the sake of which they are produced ; but it is a manifest wrong to the design of them,
to stretch them to every thing which a brisk and warm imagination may suggest. Suppose as to this very point, that you explain a man's being dead in sin, to signify his being able to do no more, than a man naturally dead, is to revive himself; When you have done so, carry this explication of the metaphor to another text, and see how far it is from being true and a
greeable there. Such as are alive to God, are said Rom. vi. 2. to be dead to sin, which according to the sense
just mentioned, must denote..... That such are no more able to do a sinful action, than a dead body is to move or stir. * And if there are any that will not own this to be a false
* Dead in trespasses and sins, an unregenerate man can as little do any thing preparatory to the new Birth as produce it. But enjoying natural, though destitute of spiritual life, in many instances, sinners might act otherwise than they do. This is happily illustrated by the author, Chap. iv. § 2. Especially they should be careful to apply diligently to the means of divine appointment, which Christ has promised to countenance and bless. Assiduous application to these means is a duty which never can be too much inculcated, or too carefully performed. And when a conscientious performance is aimed at, it is more than probable that with the sinnêr, as with the poor impotent man at Bethesda, all shall be well at last. Instead of effecting a cure, he could not even put himself into the waters, and, till troubled, they were as inefficacious as any common stream; still, however, he waited, and when he could find no means nor ability to go to health....health came to him.
But it must always be remembered....that the soul is passive in regeneration ....that the connection between the most diligent use of the appointed means and the end....regeneration or salvation, is neither natural nor necessary, but absolutely dependent on the divine blessing. After we have done all, an attainment which few, if any, pretend to, we are unprofitable servants. Duty is ours; salvation is wholly of
grace. But considering the rich grace of God in his kind invitations and precious promises, these things should rather encourage than discourage poor sinners.
hood, they must blot that text out of the Bible, There is not a just man upon earth that doeth Eccl. vii. 20. good, and sinneth not: And at the same time, they must talk against all the observation and experience in the world.
In obviating the objection to the use of means which is urged from man's being spiritually dead, the author's language is rather dark and inaccurate. His observation concerning scripture metaphors is true and deserves attention, but in the present case is rather misapplied. The particular truth which the metaphors alluded to are designed to inculcate is.....Man's utter inability to put forth any cxertions which can have the least efficiency to produce or even prepare for his regeneration. But this by no means either cancels or diminishes his obligation to duty. Being a moral agent he is under the strongest obligations to obey the Most High. But though without power to produce a supernatural change, calls to use the means, and endeavours, on the sinners part, are neither useless nor without advantage.
Like the gospel call at large, every particular call to sinners, and among others that, Eph. v. 14. Awake tbou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give the life, points out duty, exhibits privilege, and is the great mean appointed by God to be the vehicle of that life which dead sinners need, but cannot produce. Tabernacling in the flesh Jesus said to the young man and maid ARISE, and to Lazarus after he had been some days in the grave, COME FORTH. In some such manner, and with similar effect, he addresses the dead sinner in the day of effectual calling. He says, Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead. With the call he conveys power and communicates life. Then is accomplished that emphatic promise, The DEAD sball bear the voice of the Son of GOD, and shall live.......Besides, as the gospel is the ministration of the Spirit, ut often communicates certain influences which excite, and in some degree enable, gospel hearers to do many things, and these even gladly; but instead of cherishing and im. proving his influences, many neglect and quench them, and pro. voke the holy Spirit to depart.
But dropping all metaphors, it is farther objected against the plain and express scriptures I have quoted.... That our SAviour tells us plainly, whilst there are many that strive to enter in at the strait gate, yet there are few that find it. And
again, he says expressly, that no man can come John vi. 44. unto him, except the Father draw him. And the
apostle tells us, That it is God who worketh in us both to will, and to do, of his own good pileasure.
To which I think the answer is very obvious. When these and the foregoing places are con pared together, they amount evidently to this, and no more: We must work, because God works in us, and with us; we must go to Christ by the grace of God assisting and enabling us; and we must strive in a believing expectation of God's accomplishing our desires; because those that have made attempts, without this dependence on him, and help from him, have been disappointed and baffled. And that leads to a
It is true a regenerate person is dead to sin and cannot live in it, Rom. vi. 2. And yet commits sin in thought word and deed every day. But from a renewed man's committing sin; we cannot argue that an unrenewed man either can or will perform any thing spiritually good. Both are dead....the one to sin and the other in it. In an unrenewed man there is but one principle; in the believer there are TWO .....contrary in their nature, incessantly opposing one another, and absolutely irreconcileable. These are denominated Flesh and Spirit, the Law in the members and of the mind, and the Old and New Man. Every believer may and should join with the Apostle when with the greatest propriety he designates his own character from that internal principle which was the most powerful and permanent, saying as in Rom. vii. 20. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but SIN that dwelletb in me..... The moment the old man is thoroughly rooted out, the saint will be as incapable of sinning and as averse to it, as the natural man is to perform any duty spiritually good.