« AnteriorContinuar »
consider that he is a fallen spirit, whose business here is to recover the favour of God and a divine nature. But though he is still in the bonds of iniquity, presumption and pride fill him with such a good opinion of himself, that, if he thinks he needs any repentance at all, he talks of repenting by and by. He does not, indeed, exactly know when, but some time or other before he dies. He takes it for granted that this is quite in his own power; for looking but seldom into the word of God, he probably never read this passage, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do according to his pleasure:' Thinking, therefore, that he has both freedom and power to turn to God when he pleases, he does not trouble himself at all about obtaining the Spirit of God,' and being born again of the Spirit, as well as of water.' Nay, perhaps, forgetting that the last time he was at church he prayed, (or at least feigned to pray,) that God would give him true repentance and his Holy Spirit, he is not ashamed to call those enthusiasts, who say with Jesus Christ, that unless a man be born again of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,' thus shewing the truth of what St. Paul says in the text, * He receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him.'
From this ignorance of the law, and the justice of God ; and from this presumption, there may sometimes arise in nim a kind of joy: He may congratulate himself upon his own wisdom and goodness : And what the world calls joy he way often possess. He may have pleasures of various kinds, either in gratifying the • desires of the flesh, the desires of the eye, or the pride of life ;' particularly if he have • large possessions,' if he enjoy an affluent fortune. Then he may clothe himself in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day ;' and so long as he thus runs in a circle of pleasure, the bulk of mankind will envy his condition, and cry him up as a happy man; for this is the sum of the natural man's happiness, to get and spend, to dress and be admired, to visit and sport, to eat and drink, to sleep and rise up to play, as says St. Paul.
But suppose he acts in a lower sphere ; suppose he is obliged to follow a plough, to attend a master, or to work hard to provide for his family, he is not less ignoraňt of the vast concerns of his soul, and takes as much eare as the rich to arm himself against every thing that might invite him to repent, and seek deliverance out of his miserable state of nature.—And what is that armour he uses to ward off from his heart all the calls of God's grace, all thoughts of shaking off his sins, going to Christ, and entering into the liberty of the sons of God ?'_.Why,” says he, “ of him to whom little is given, little shall be required ; God will not deal hardly with poor people that work for their bread, want time to read, and are no scholars.” Poor, ignorant, blind sinners, indeed! To persuade themselves that, because they work for the body that goes to corruption, they may safely neglect the immortal soul; that, because they serve an earthly master, they have the privilege of not serving the God of heaven ; nay, perhaps of serving the devil; and that their want of scholarship, as they call it, will be a sufficient excuse before God for not loving Christ; for caring neither for death nor judgment, neither for heaven nor hell. Ah! be not deceived any longer, you who are in that case ! God will not be mocked by his creatures ; he requires your hearts; and while your hands are employed in the duties of your calling, you can lift up your souls to him, and work out your salvation as well or better than if you were in another state of life,
To return: Let us observe a little more closely the natural man's ways. Examine particularly, and you will perceive that he commits sin, more or less, day by day ;-yet he is not troubled, he is in no fear, he feels no condemnation, he contents himself, (even though he should profess to believe that the Bible is the word of God,) with saying, “We are all sinners; to man is frail ; every, body has his infirmity. There is none without his foible, and I freely own that this is mine."
And perhaps he will not be ashamed to name some crying sin, some habitual sin, such as being apt to get drunk, to utter an oath, to be passionate, proud, revengeful, or unclean, the very sins concerning which God has solemnly declared that those who commit such things shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'-Fine foibles indeed! Trifles which are not worth men. tioning, or writing down in God's book of remembrance ! We learn, however, from Scripture, that when the day of patience shall give place to that of justice, and when the books shall be opened, he shall be called to an account, not only for his foibles, as he calls them, but for every idle word that shall have passed his lips, and every sinful thought that shall have been formed in his heart. But in this, as in many other cases, the unawakened man flatly gives the Bible the lie, and will tell you with a sneer, he does not believe any such thing. Nor has he understanding enough in Divine things to conclude, that, for saying so, he is guilty of high treason against the King of heaven ; because he that rejects part of the Christian revelation must be as guilty before God, as he that contemptuously tears part of a decree of the king in his presence: For, as such a one would in vain excuse himself by saying, that he tore but one part and spared the rest, the law would be put in execution against him, and so shall God's law against the unawakened and impenitent sinner. But tell him so again and again, you will get nothing except his contempt; for instead of owning his pride and unbelief, he will accuse you of superstition and weakness of mind ; and as the text affirms that the things of God are foolishness to him, perhaps he will call you a fool for entertaining such notions. Most certain it is, that he will think you a weak, though perhaps well-meaning man, and turn you into ridicule whenever he meets with one of the same temper as himself. But though he thus mangles the law of God, whenever it does not suit his notions of religion, yet he takes care, some way or other, to be provided with two or three sayings of infidels, out of the Bible, or two or three
passages, generally misunderstood, which, by the construction he puts upon them, give him as much liberty to love the world, and remain in his natural state, as he could wish. These he turns sometimes into a shield, to defend himself against the reproofs of his conscience, or the calls of Christ's ministers, and sometimes into a sword to destroy what little work the grace of God may have begun in the hearts of those with whom he con
“ Fear not,” says he, “ God's mercy is over all his works.—Be not righteous over much.—God willeth not the death of a sinner.- 'T'he righteous falleth seven times a day.” These, and a few more Scriptures, he generally chooses for the subject of his meditations ; in these he is skilled above all.
One or two strokes more, and I shall finish this pic. ture of the unawakened sinner. He cannot bear to hear any one insist on the power of godliness : All is well, as long as you only say, “ Live soberly and honestly : Do good and go to church.” Any thing that does not alarm him, and make him look to the vileness of his heart, will not offend him. But tell him that he must
be born again of the Spirit of God,' that he must be renewed in his mind,' that he must become a partaker of the Divine nature,' and have the love of God shed abroad in his heart, by the Holy Spirit given unto him,' and that if he do not obtain the Spirit of Christ, he shall never be his ; he stares, he wonders what you mean by those expressions. They are mere riddles to him; and if you show him that they occur continually both in the Bible and in our Liturgy, he cannot conceive what St. Paul and Archbishop Cranmer meant by using such cant words, and he would fain put them in the class of enthusiasts too, were he not afraid of being thought a blasphemer.
But suppose you continue to declare unto him all the counsel of God in plain terms, and cry with the apostles, . Save thyself from this perverse generation, thou art still a child of wrath, repent and be con. verted : See him whom thou hast pierced, and mourn, lest he appoint thee thy portion with hypocrites and
unbelievers';' he cannot tell what you mean by speak. ing with so much passion ; for that is the name he gene. rally gives to the concern that Christian Ministers feel for his perishing soul. He wonders at your being -so uncivil as to tell him plainly, that “ he has an immortal soul to take care of,” a proud, devilish, stubborn hard heart to overcome, and the eternal fire of hell to flee from.
Indeed, above all, you must not mention hell or damnation, before him, unless you soften the expression so, that he may think, if it should be his lot to go thi. ther, he will not find it so terrible as some suppose. If you speak of it, though it should be only in the words of Christ and his apostles, he will surely be offended, or, at least, will turn what you say into a jest.—“What ! You will frighten ine into heaven, I suppose.--How come you to make so free with hell and damnation ?"
Alas, poor man! who makes so free with it as him. self, who thinks to avoid it by a sneer from the seat of the scorner ?
But to return : If at any time a serious thought fixes upon him, he stifles it as soon as possible. He sits un. easy under an awakening sermon; and if something that he hears is peculiarly applicable to him, he thinks that the minister, who, perhaps, never heard of him, draws his picture out of spite; for he has no idea that if a minister has studied his own heart, he can tell all men theirs too, because we are all alike by nature, all, cast into the mould of Adam's corruption.
Nevertheless, if the Word of God that is sharper than a two-edged sword, to divide the words and thoughts of men, makes, at any time, a slight wound in his seared conscience ;-he binds it up immediately, either by resolving to read a few more prayers, and give some alms, or go to the Lord's table the next sacrament-day, which he supposes will be quite suffi. cient to put him in a fair way to attain heaven. Or, he puts all off by exclaiming, “ Who can be a Christian at this rate ? This doctrine is too severe; I know I am not very good ; but, I thank God, I am not very