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The Elevation and Recruit, which that power may receive from a common work of the Holy Ghost, much helping nature, quickening conscience, and reforming the life. 1. The carnal man may be carried very far towards Christianity, from the mere Strength and Power of Nature.
For the mere power of corrupt nature is, of itself, sufficient to raise a man to any attainment, that is short of true saving grace. A natural man may so prepare and dispose his heart, as that the very next thing to be wrought upon him should be grace: it may carry him out to the externals of Christianity; and, it may be, with more pomp and grandeur, than sometimes the power of grace doth carry out a child of God: when the Power of Nature takes on it the Form of Godliness, it will make bright and glittering professors. Now these externals of Christianity lie in two things, the Performance of duties, and the Avoiding of sin. '"
As for Duties, they may so far outstrip and outshine a child of God, in the pomp and gaudiness of them, as to be their emulation and example: and, for Sin, there is not any one particular sin, setting aside those common and unavoidable infirmities which are inseparable from the frailty of human nature, but a carnal man may keep himself from the commission of it, by the mere power of nature; and there is scarce any sin, that is branded remarkably in the world, but some wicked man or other doth abstain from it, and that merely from the power of nature: one, by this power, abstains from this sin; another, from that; and a third, from another sin: and each of these has power to abstain likewise from all these sins; because what power the one hath may, possibly, be found in the other, since, in nature, there is nothing partial, for a man naturally is not so. Again, the Devil, when he tempts, doth not force and constrain them: he doth not forcibly move the black tongue of the swearer to curse and blaspheme; nor doth he screw open the drunkard's mouth by force, to pour down intemperate cups; nor force the murderer's hand to sheath his sword in his brother's bowels, whether he will or no: but he solicits the wills, and insinuates into the affections by his temptations, and makes these freely move the engine to that to which his design tends; and therefore all his triumphs are but for beggarly victories: he could not prevail over us, did not we prove traitors to our own souls; did not we surrender up ourselves, by the consent of our own wills; else, we could never be distressed, much less taken by the violence of the tempter.
2. As men may proceed far toward Christianity by the Power of Nature, so they may have Common and Ordinary Works of the Holy Ghost upon them, that may carry them out to a very great progress.
. They may be made, saith the Apostle, partakers of the Holy Ghost: Heb. vi. 4. and that is, of its common gifts and operations. It is the Spirit of God, that enlightens their understandings, that awakens their consciences, that excites their affections. It is the Spirit, that works conviction, that works reformation;' yea, and sanctification in wicked and unregenerate men: for we have that expression concerning them. There is a Twofold Sanctification.
(1) Of the Flesh, consisting in the removal of all carnal and external filthiness; called by the Apostle an escaping of the pollutions of the world through lust: 2 Pet. ii. 20. and that consists in a separation from all those gross and vile sius, wherein the flagitious and debauched world do wallow.
(2) There is likewise a Sanctification of the Spirit, consisting in a separation from a state of nature to a state of grace.
The one is external, by reformation: the other is internal, by renovation.
The former sanctification a natural man may be made partaker of by the Holy Ghost; so as to have his life and actions stand at a greater distance from and a greater opposition to those carnal gross sins, which the world is generally defiled with: but this is no more than a common and ordinary work of the Holy Ghost: they may account the blood, whereby they are sanctified, an unholy thing. There is a far different force and energy, that the Holy Spirit puts forth, when it works conversion, and when it works only outward sanctification: in both it may work upon the heart; but in conversion it works upon the heart so as to change it and renew it, while in the reformation of a natural man he works upon the heart indeed, but it is only to change and amend the life: the Spirit may persuade the one to change his heart, but then he changeth the heart ^>f the other: he may persuade the will of the one to submit to Christ, but then he subdues the will of the other: he persuades the one to become a Christian, but he makes the other a Christian. Now there is a very wide difference between these two ways of working: by the one he only excites men to use somewhat of the power they have, but by the other he gives them the power they want.
And thus you see, what there is in man, considered both in nature and with the help of the common Work of the Holy Ghost, that may carry him so far towards Christianity.
ii. There is also something considerable in the Object, vi?. Religion and Christianity itself, whence it is natural men may make so great a progress towards it: and that is Twofold,
The Attractiveness of Religion:
The Subserviency of Religion to itself.
1. The Attractiveness of Religion.'
And this consists not only in the inward and spiritual beauty of holiness, which these men have not eyei to discern; but also in that happiness, which is annexed to Religion and Christianity. This is that, which draws out natural men to all their attainments. Happiness is the great bait of men's desires; and that, which sweetens the means tending to it: though they be in themselves very difficult and burdensome, yet, leading to happiness, they close with it: and, therefore, as the apprehensions of heaven and hell work upon a natural man more or less forcibly than the thoughts of the difficulty or tediousness of holy duties; so is his progress more or less strong and vigorous towards Christianity.
2. Another thing in Christianity or Religion, that advanceth some to so great a progress, is the Subserviency ofReligion to iiself.
Religion doth mightily promote and advance itself.
(1) In that the performance of one part and of one duty of religion, obligeth and engageth to the performance of another.
As one sin draws on another, by consequence likewise doth one duty draw on another. There is a connexion and dependance between them: hearing engageth to meditation, and meditation to prayer, and prayer for grace to endeavour after it: a glorious profession obligeth to something, at least that may be answerable to that profession. Thus, one duty of religion hands a man over to another; and, when he is passed through one, another stands ready to receive him.
(2) A little progress in religion doth facilitate.
It is harder, at first, to begin; than, having begun, to continue: because use and custom in any thing make it easy.
Now it is this subserviency of religion to itself, that may carry men very far in it. When they have begun a profession, and entered upon one duty, that duty delivers them over to another, and makes it more facile and easy to them; because the precedent duty, as it doth engage them to, so it prepares them for, the subsequent duty, as well as engage them to the present duty. One duty doth, as it were, perform half the task and bear half the burden of the other.
Thus then you see, whence it is that natural men may make so great a progress towards Christianity, so as to be almost Christians, from the Power of Nature, and from the Attractiveness of Religion.
Now, here, if you ask me, " How shall I know, whether it be the power of nature helped by the common workings of the Spirit, or the power of supernatural grace, that carries men out to all their profession?" I shall give you but this one discriminating character of it: See whether your abilities be greater in the things that belong to grace and holiness, than they are to natural things. A child of God, who is but of weak parts as to the things of the world, that can scarce give you a rational account of such affairs when propounded to him, bring him but to the things of God, and how admirably will he be able to unfold, even the very mysteries that are hid from the wise and prudent of the world! Put him upon any common discourse, how broken and incoherent is he! but engage him in prayer, how doth he expatiate and enlarge, and what a torrent of divine rhetoric will he then pour into the bosom of God! Is this from nature, that he is able to exceed and go beyond himself? No, certainly. It is very observable concerning the ways of God, what the Prophet speaks, Isa. xxxv. 8. A highway shall be there and it shall be called, The way ofholiness:
the unclean shall not pass over it: though they wander and err in every other way; though they do not take the right way to be rich, and great, and honourable in the world ; yet these, that are fools in every thing else, shall not err from the way of holiness: and, therein, lies the only wisdom. But, take a mere carnal man, that hath eminent abilities in earthly things; usually, he is never weaker than when he is engaged in that which is holy and spiritual: at least his chief excellency doth not lie there: though he doth perform the duty well, yet he doth not
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do it beyond what he doth in ordinary and natural things. Now how is it with you ? do you find yourselves carried much beyond the rate and size of your natural abilities? that you never so much exceed yourselves, nor do so well, as when you are about some holy and spiritual employment? that you are not so artificial in any thing, as in holy performances? This is a good sign, that it is the power of grace, and not only the power of nature, that carries you forth to the profession of religion which you make. I take the extraordinary gifts, bestowed upon unregenerate men in a vast disproportion from their natural abilities, to be long ago ceased.
Thus you see what enables a natural man to go so far towards Christianity* .
III. The Third General propounded, was to shew WHAT IT IS THAT HINDERS THESE PROFICIENTS FROM MAKING FURTHER PROGRESS: that, when they areal most, what keeps them from being altogether Christians.
I answer to this, in general: It is only through a wilful and wretched neglect of what they might do, that any of them do fall short of grace here and glory hereafter. It is not our want of power, but our want of will, or rather indeed our willingness, that makes us miscarry to our eternal perdition.
I shall illustrate this by a plain and obvious similitude. Suppose that God should promise to bestow heaven upon us, if we would but reach forth and touch it with pur hands. Now, although we can never reach so high: yet if we do not stretch forth our hands, and reach as high as we are able to do, the fault of losing heaven will not lie upon the inability and impossibility, that were in us to touch it; but upon our wilful neglect of striving to our utmost to do what we are able to do: the reason why we fall short, would not be because our arm is not long enough; but because we do not stretch it forth to the utmost length.
The instance is somewhat plain and familiar; but yet it holds an exact proportion to the case in hand. God promiseth heaven to us, if we will but touch it; that is, if we will lay hold on Christ by faith: which faith we can no more work in ourselves by our own proper efficiency, than touch heaven with our finger; yet, howsoever, if we do not do our utmost, our falling short of hea