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· MISCELLANEOUS ESSAYS,
FROM THE THEOLOGICAL AND BIBLICAL MAGAZINE.
REPLY TO A QUERY ON MORAL INABILITY.
FIRST : You inquire, “ Whether any person by nature possesses that ' honest heart,' which constitutes the ability to comply with the invitations of the gospel ? I believe the heart of man to be by nature the direct opposite of honest. I am not aware, however, that I have any where represented an honest heart as constituting our ability to comply with gospel invitations, unless as the term is sometimes used in a figurative sense, for moral ability. I have said, “ There is no ability wanting for this purpose in any man who possesses an honest heart.” If a person owed you one hundred pounds, and could find plenty of money for his own pur. poses, though none for you ; and should be at the same time plead inability, you would answer, there is no ability wanting, but an honest heart : yet it would be an unjust construction of your words, if an advocate for this dishonest man were to allege, that you had represented an honest heart as that which constituted the ability to pay the debt. No, (you would reply,) his ability, strictly speaking, consists in its being in the power of his hand, and this be has. That which is wanting is an honest principle ; and it is the
former, not the latter, which renders him accountable. It is simi. lar with regard to God. Men have the same natural powers to love Christ, as to hate him ; to believe, as to disbelieve; and this it is wbich constitutes their accountableness. Take away reason and conscience, and mad would cease to be accountable ; but if he were as wicked as Satan himself, in that case no such effect would follow. .
Secondly: If no man by nature possess an honest heart, you inquire, “ Whether, if I be not what you call an elect sinner, there are many means provided of God, and which I can use, that sball issue in that honesty of heart,' which will enable me to believe unto salvation ?" Your being an elect, or a non-elect sinner, makes no difference as to this question. The idea of a person destitute of bonesty using means to obtain it, is in all cases a contradiction. The use of means supposes the existence of an honest desire after the end. The scriptures direct to the sincere use of means for obtaining eternal life ; and these means are, repent and believe the gospel ; but they nowhere direct to such a use of means as may be complied with without any honesty of heart, and in order to obtain it. Nothing appears to me with greater evidence than that God directly requires uprightness of heart, not only in the moral law, but in all the exhortations of the Bible, and not the dishonest use of means in order to obtain it. Probably you yourself would not plead for such a use of means ; hut would allow, that even in using means to obtain an honest heart, we ought to be sincere : but, if so, you must maintain what I affirm, that nothing short of honesty of heart itself is required in any of the ex. hortations of scripture ; for a sincere use of means is honesty of heart. If you say, ' No ; man is depraved : it is not his duty to possess an honest beart, but merely to use means that he may possess it :' I answer, (as personating the sinner,) I have no desire after an honest heart. If you reply, · You should pray for such a desire,' you must mean, if you mean any thing, that I should express my desire to God, that I may have a desire ; and I tell you that I have none to express ! You would then, Sir, be driven to tell me, I was 80 wicked, that I neither was of an upright heart, nor would be persuaded to use any means for becoming so ; and
that I must take the consequences. That is, I must be exposed to punishment, because though I had “ a price in any hand to get wisdom, I had no heart to it.” Thus, all you do is, to remove the obstruction farther out of sight : the thing is the same.
I apprehend it is owing to your considering human depravity as the misfortune, rather than the fault of human nature, that you and others speak of it as you do. You would not write in this manner in an affair that affected yourself. If the debtor above supposed, whom you knew to have plenty of wealth about him, were to allege his want of an honest heart, you might possibly think of using means with him ; but you would not think of directing him to use means to become what at present he has no desire to be an honest man !
Thirdly : You inquire, If there be no means provided of God, which I can use, that shall issue in that honesty of heart which will enable me to believe unto salvation, “ how can the gospel be a blessing bestowed upon me ; seeing it is inadequate to make me happy, and contains no good thing which I can possibly obtain or enjoy ?" If I be under no other inability than that which arises from a dishonesty of heart, it is an abuse of language to introduce the terms “possible, impossible,” &c. for the purpose of diminishing the goodness of God, or destroying the accountableness of man. I am not wanting in power, provided I were willing ; and if I be not willing, there lies my fault. Nor is any thing in itself less a blessing on account of our unreasonable and wicked aversion to it. Indeed, the same would follow from your own principles. If I be so wicked as not only to be destitute of an honest heart, but cannot be persuaded to use means in order to obtain it, I must perish : and then, according to your way of writing, tbę gospel was “ inadequate to make me happy, and was no blessing to me!" You will say, 'I might have used the means,' that is, I might if I would, or if I had possessed a sincere desire after the end : but I did not possess it ; and therefore the same consequences follow your bypotheses, as that which you oppose.
If these things be true, say you, we may despair. True, sir ; and that is the point, in a sense, to which I should be glad to see you and many others brought. Till we despair of all help from
ourselves, we shall never pray acceptably: nor, in my judgment, is there any hope of our salvation.
Let a man feel that there is no bar between him and heaven, except what consists in his own wickedness; and yet that such is its infuence over bim, that he certainly never will, by any efforts of his own, extricate himself from it; and he will then begin to pray for an interest in salvation by mere grace, in the name of Jesus—a salvation that will save him from himself ; and so praying, he will' find it: and when he has found it, he will feel and acknowledge that it was grace alone that made him to differ; and this grace be is taught in the scriptures to ascribe to the purpose of God, given him in Christ Jesus before the world began.
SKÉTCH OF A SERMON, At the Association of Baptist Ministers and Churches, at Oakham,
June 3, 1801.
Beloved, when I gave diligence to write unto you of the common salýa
tion, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you, that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
The writer of this epistle is, in the gospel of John, caled Judas, not Iscariot. The epistle itself is called general, not being addressed to any particular person or people; and may, therefore,
be of more common concern. In the passage which I have now read, we may notice, First, The occasion there was for writing : it was needful. The apostle did not write for writing's sake; but to guard them against certain men who had crept into the churches unawares-lurning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ver. 4.) Secondly: The earnestness with which he engaged in it: he gave all diligence. The word signifies haste, forwardness, diligent care ; somewhat like that which a person would feel in polling a child out of the fire. (Ver. 23.) Thirdly: The subject on whicb he wrote : the common salvation. This furnishes a reason for his being so much in earnest !—The very vitals of Christianity were struck at. Had not this been the case, it may be they would not have heard from him. When Haman had conspired against the Jews, you may recollect the petition of Esther, and the manner in which it was addressed to the king. After having invited him to her banquet, and postponed the matter until she had whetted his desire to the uttermost, she at length uttered her request. If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition, and my people at my re. quest! For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish : but if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my peace, although the enemy could not countervail the king's damage! Something like this : seems to be the spirit of this passage. It is as if the writer had said, If the enemy had levelled his weapon against any thing but the very heart of the gospel, 1 might have held my peace. The amount is, THE COMMON DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL ARE OF THE FIRST IMPORTANCE TO BE TAUGHT BY US AS MINISTERS, AND RETAINED BY US AS CHRISTIANS.
In discoursing on the subject, I shall endeavour to ascertain wherein the common salvation consists; inquire why it is so called; and show the importance of its being made the grand theme of our ministrations, and the first object of our attachment.
I. Let us endeavour to ascertain WHEREIN THE COMMON SALVATION CONSISTS.