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perate sinner or other to say, " These indeed are strong Argu-, ments, that have been propounded for the Enforcing of this Duty of working out our salvation, upon those that expect salvation; but) for my part, I pretend not so high: let me but now enjoy the sins that I serve and the pleasures that I pursue; and, for the state of my soul hereafter, I shall commend it to the mercy of Godi Had I true grace, I might be persuaded to attempt this hard work, with hopes of some good success: but I own myself to be a sinner, and you tell me.I cannot change my own heart, and without this change no salvation can be expected ; why then should I disquiet myself in vain, by labouring for that, which I cannot accomplish? If I must perish, I will perish with as much Ease and Pleasure as I may. If I must go to hell, I may be as soon carried down thither in a flood of tears, as with a flood of sins. If God bath sentenced me to hell hereafter, why should I sentence myself to a hell here? And, therefore, if salvation and happiness be such points, I will give them over, and embrace more easy and obvious pleasures."
I know there is no pious heart, bat shivereth with horror at such language as this, though it be but presented to it; and may, and does, think it rather the speech of devils, than men that are in a way of salvation. It is true, it is the speech of devils; but it is the speech of devils, in men's hearts. But, what! shall we leave these men to such desperate resolutions? Shall we suffer them thus to go down flaming to hell? Certainly, religion hath reason enough in it to convince such as these, if they will but shew themselves to be rational men.
For, consider, thou, who wouldst rather perish, than make thy life a trouble to thee by obedience: God, under thy disobedience, may make thy life a trouble, yea a hell to thee, by his terrors. Thou thinkest the filthy garments of thy sin and pollution sit more easy and loose about thee, than the close garments of holiness and obedience will do: nay, but God can wrap and roll these filthy garments of thine in brimstone, and set them on fire about thine ears. Many men's consciences, indeed, are like iron, that hath lain for some time out of the fire, which you would not suspect to be hot, till you let some water fall upon it, and then it appears to be so by its noise and hissing: so, truly, their consciences seem cold and dead, and such as you might handle at your pleasure; but, when once God lets fall some drops of his wrath upon them, then they hiss, and boil, and fill the soul with smoke and smother. A hard heart is no security from a troubled conscience. It is with the hearts and consciences of wicked men, as it is with a sore in the body; which, it may be, is the hardest part in the body and yet the sorest also: the red flesh about the sore is hard, and yet full of pain and anguish: so is it, many times, with the hearts and consciences of wicked men; which, though they are exceeding hard, yet are full of pain and anguish. We read of Heman, that, whilst he suffered the terrors of God, he was distracted'. Ps. Ixxxviii. 15. And, David tells- us, The sorrows of death compassed we about, and the pains of hell gat hold of me: Ps. cxvi. 3. And, if the wrath of the Almighty be thus sore and terrible upon these holy men, whose hearts were sound towards God; how fretting and galling will it be upon the ulcerated consciences of sinners! No man hath his present contentment and delight in his own power, no more than he hath his owu conscience in his own power; which will speak, yea and speak terrible things too, when the sinner hath done all he can to stifle it. Nay, let every sinner speak: How is it with you, after, the madness and rage of your sin is over ? are you not then haunted with direful thoughts of horror and amazement, that are, as it were, gnawing and devouring your hearts? And are these they, who are content to buy ease and quietness at so dear a rate, as the loss of their precious and immortal souls; and to be eternally tormented hereafter, besides their present pain and anguish after the committing of sin now, which if they feel not always yet frequently they do? But, if God should give them up to such hardness of heart, as to become altogether insensible and stupid while they continue in this world; yet what will this avail them? will they not purchase their ease and pleasure very dearly; to lose their souls for ever hereafter, and to suffer the pains of hell eternally? The Devil hath put a horrid cheat upon these men: for they do not change their troubles and sorrows, but only the time of them: and, for a little fancied sensual ease and pleasure in this world, (which it may be they may enjoy, and it may be not; for, possibly, God may be so provoked by them, that he may suddenly cut them off in their sins: but, if not, it is but for a very little time that the pleasures of their sins and lusts will last, and then) an eternity of pain and torment shall be their portion. Sinners, be not therefore deceived: suffer not the Devil to abuse you; and to impose his drudgery upon you, under the pretence of ease and quietness. If, therefore, it b« only present contentment and satisfaction, that you seek; if you think that you shall perish, but yet you would perish the easiest way; that is not, believe it, by giving up yourselves to a way and course of sin, but in a way of duty and laborious working: in that only, can you find present contentment; and in that possibly, you may find eternal happiness.
Object, ii. " But," may some say, " the works of God would be more pleasing to us, if we could but work them. But, first, we have no working principle: we are in a state of nature, and without grace; so that we cannot work. And, secondly, we cannot implant this grace in ourselves."
To this I answer: Though you neither have grace, nor can work grace in yourselves, yet you can do much, yea very much, in order to salvation, by the mere strength of nature and the liberty of your own will. This is a consideration, that needs to be frequently pressed upon the consciences of wicked men: they often hear unto what a state of weakness sin hath reduced them, and that without grace they can do nothing that is pleasing unto God or advantageous to themselves; and, by this, they are put out of conceit of setting upon the work of God, and leave the salvation of their souls at all adventures.
Consider, therefore, Sinners, how much you may do towards your own salvation, from your own nature and free-will.
1. The vilest sinner, even by the power of nature and, his own free-will, may attain to the highest degree and pilch of preparation, that is usually wrought in the heart antecedently to or before true grace.
Such are legal conviction and contrition, a sad sight of sin, and a deep sorrow for it, together with strong resolutions and purposes against it, with strong desires after grace and holiness, and the like. And the reason of this is, because all these things are short of grace: and, whatever is short of true grace, falls within the compass of nature and free-will, which is common unto all men ; which, though it be indeed wounded and maimed, yet may make shift to go so far as this comes to. True grace is only the creation of the power of God, and not the production of nature or free-will: wherefore, after all this preparation is wrought, a sinner can no more work grace in himself, than he could before; yet he is now nearer to grace, and in a greater probability of it than he was before. And there is none but may go thus far, if they will but improve that power and ability that they have.
2., There is no duty in religion, but the power of nature may cany a man out to the external performance thereof, and that with affection and enlargement also. ,
Ahab humbles himself. Herod heard John Baptist gladly. And so, sinners can pray, hear, read, meditate, and discourse of the things of God: others have done so, formerly; and, therefore, they may and can do so, now. Indeed, heretofore, there were peculiar gifts bestowed upon wicked persons, immediately from God; as Balaam was made to prophesy of Christ, and the like: Numb. xxiv. 17. But these are now ceased: and all unregenerate persons now, have the same power and faculties in them, one as well as another; and may be able to do, one as much as another; in the performance of spiritual duties, if.they themselves will.
3. There is no wicked, man whatever, but may, by the mere power of nature, restrain himself from the commission of sin.
I speak not of sins, collectively taken ; for no man can so say his heart of life is clean and pure: but he may keep out of notorious and scandalous sins. There is no sinner, that hath given himself up to his lusts, but may, if he will, for the future live so inoffensively, that neither the world nor his own conscience may have much to accuse him of, besides common infirmities. Mirk the reason of this: because wicked men commonly make choice of sin: this sin they will live in, and that sin they will not live in: the drunkard is not covetous, and the covetous man is not a drunkard; and so I may say of other sins. Now it is from the power of nature, that wicked men refrain from the commission of any one sin; and not from the power of grace: and, therefore, if one sinner hath power to keep from this sin, and another sinner hath power to keep from the commission of another, and a third from a third sin, then every sinner may, by the power of nature, keep from all those sins that any of those sinners do keep themselves from; because there is the same power in each sinner, to lay the same restraint upon this or that sin, that others keep from.
4. There is no man, how greui a sinner soever, but, if he will, lie may with constancy, yea to the end and period of his life, con
VOL. III. O
tinue thus in the performance of duties and in the avoiding of sins) by the power of nature only.
For, if it be possible that men should do it at any time, then it is possible for them to do it continually. No more power is required to enable them this day, than was required the day past) nor no more power is required for the day to come, than was for this day now present: therefore, having strength to avoid them one time, they might also avoid them another time; yea, and continually persevere in so doing, if they would keep a daily constant watch against them.
5. There is no man, but, through this perseverance and continuance, may attain to habitualness; and, thereby, to a facility and easiness, in the performance of duties, and in the avoiding of sins.
When men are accustomed to a road and round of duties, it is a trouble to them to omit them: so, if men did but set themselves to their utmost to perform duties in a more hearty and cordial manner, those duties would become easy to them; and, if men would but engage themselves perseveringly to oppose their corruptions, this would bring them to that pass, that, it would be their delight to keep from sin and to perform duty. And all this the power of nature would bring them to.
Now, Sinners, you see what a large tenure you have. You are not staked down fast, that you can do nothing: no; it is much, yea very much, that you may do in order to your salvation.
But, here, some may possibly say, " We hope that these words are not true:" for they would not be able to do so much as all this comes to, because they are willing to do nothing at all. But, let such know, that that, which will condemn them at the Last Day, will be, that they have not done what they might have done, in performing duties and in opposing sins, and therefore they wilfully fall short of happiness and salvation.
Object, iii. " But/' may some say, "if we should put forth to our utmost the power of Nature, what would that avail us? We cannot thereby work Grace in ourselves; and, without gra.ce, no salvation is to be had.".