EXPLAINED AND DEFENDED
SERIES OF SERMONS;
TIMOTHY DWIGHT, S. T. D. LL. D.
LATE PRESIDENT OF YALE COLLEGE.
THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
IN FOUR VOLUMES
PUBLISHED BY T. DWIGHT & SON,
AND SOLD BY LEAVITT, LORD & CO.
180 BROADWAY, NEW YORK.
[ 2 ]
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT, ss.
BE it remembered, that on the fifth day of January, in the forty second year of the Independence of the United States of America, Timothy Dwight, and William T. Dwight, both of said District; Administrators of the Rev. Timothy Dwight, now deceased, and late of the said District, have deposited in this office the title of a book, the right whereof they claim as Administrators as aforesaid, and Proprietors, in the words following, to wit:
Theology; explained and defended, in a Series of Sermons; by Timothy Dwight, T. D., LL. D. late President of Yale college. With a Memoir of the Life the Author,. in five Volumes. Vol 2.’’
In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, " An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors arid proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned."
Clerk of the District of Connecticut.
A true copy of Record, examined and sealed by me.
Clerk of the District of Connecticut.
This document was scanned from an original printing.
The text of this and other superb works are available on-line from:
The Willison Politics and Philosophy Resource Centerhttp://willisoncenter.com/
Reprint and digital file September 15, 2002.
To aid the reader, we have retained the original page numbers in brackets as shown here: [ 3 ]
The following begins the original text:
Acts: xvi. 29, 30.—Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas: and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
HAVING, in the two preceding discourses, considered the Necessity, the Reality, and the Nature of Regeneration, I shall now proceed to give a history of this important work, as it usually exists in fact; and shall attempt to exhibit its antecedents, its attendants, and its Consequents. The first of these subjects shall occupy the present discourse.
The text is a part of the story of the Jailer, to whose charge Paul and Silas were committed by the magistrates of Philippi, with a particular direction that he should keep them safely. To comply with this direction, he thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. In this situation, at midnight, they prayed , and sang praises to God. Suddenly there was a great earthquake; so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every ones bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm; for we are all here. Then he called for a light, a ad sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
The man who is the principal subject of this story, had been educated a heathen, and, until a short time before the events specified in it, took place, was totally ignorant of the Christian religion. Within this period he must have been present, and I think not unfrequently, at the preaching of Paul and Silas: otherwise, he could not have known, that there was such a thing as salvation. Probably he was induced, in common with his fellow-citizens, to hear their discourses merely as a gratification of curiosity. Whatever was the motive, it is plain, he had gained some knowledge of a Saviour; and had learned, that through Him men might, in some manner or other, be saved.
The things, which he had known concerning these subjects, seem not, however, to have made any very deep impressions on his mind. Before the extraordinary events recorded in the verses
immediately preceding the text, he appears not to have conversed
[ 431 ]
with these Ministers about his religious concerns, nor to have felt any peculiar anxiety concerning his guilt or his danger. On the contrary, we cannot hesitate to consider him, as cleary proved, by his severe treatment of them, to have been hitherto in a state of religious unconcern, a state of sinful coldness and quietude.
But at this time a change was wrought in the man, great and wonderful; a change, manifested in his conduct with the most unequivocal evidence. By what was this change accomplished? What was it, that of a heathen made this man a Christian? Was the cause found in the miraculous events, by which the change was immediately preceded? It would seem that many others, who were equally witnesses of these events, still continued to be heathen, and experienced no alteration of character. Beyond this, it is evident from the story, that the Jailer did not witness them at all; and that he did not awake out of sleep, until after the earthquake, and all its alarming effects, had terminated. Besides, when he had awaked, and concluded that the prisoners had made their escape, he determined to kill himself: an effort which refutes the supposition, that he had any just moral apprehensions, and proves him to have been solicitous only concerning his responsibility to the magistrates. He had, indeed, heard Paul and Silas preach; so had many others, who still continued to be heathen. Preaching, therefore, did not alone accomplish this change; otherwise it would have accomplished it in them also. An influence, not common to others, must have been felt by him; an influence, never felt by himself before, must now have produced this mighty alteration in his character.
The text presents him to us in the utmost agitation and distress, and as thus agitated and distressed concerning his salvation. He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? A little before, he had thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. Immediately before, he was on the point of committing suicide; a gross and dreadful crime, which would have ruined him for ever. A little before, nay immediately before, he was a heathen; regardless of salvation; a foe to Christianity; and the hard-handed jailer of these Ministers of the Gospel.
But now he bade adieu to all these dispositions, and practices, at once; renounced his former heathenism and sin; and became a meek, humble, and pious follower of the Redeemer. Now he fell down at the feet of his prisoners, and relied implicitly on them, for direction concerning his eternal well being.
A description of the state of this man’s mind, in the progress of his Regeneration, must, in substance, be a description of the state of every mind, with respect to the same important subject. The events, preceding the work of Regeneration, are substantially the same in every mind; the work itself is the same; and its consequences are the same.
[ 432 ]
The first great division of this work, viz. what I have mentioned as the Antecedents of Regeneration, is commonly called Conviction of sin. Of this subject the Text is a strong illustration; and will very naturally conduct our thoughts to every thing, which will be necessary to it on the present occasion. The Jailer plainly laboured under powerful and distressing conviction of his own sin, and of the danger with which it was attended. Of this truth his conduct furnishes the most affecting proof. The state of Mind, which he experienced, and which this passage of Scripture describes, it is the design of this discourse to exhibit, under the following heads:
I. The Cause;
II. The Nature; and
111. The Consequences; of Conviction of Sin.
I. The peculiar Cause of this Conviction is the Law of God.
By the Law, saith St. Paul, is the knowledge of sin. As sin is merely a transgression of the law; and as, where no law is, there is no transgression; it is clear, beyond a question, that all knowledge of sin must be derived from the law. To discern that we are sinful, we must of course know the Rule of Obedience; and, comparing our conduct with that rule, must see in this manner, that our conduct is not conformed to the rule. In this way all knowledge of sin is obtained.
This, however, is not an account of the knowledge of sin, intended by Conviction; as that word is customarily used by Divines. The great body of sinners under the Gospel have, in some degree at least, this knowledge; and yet are not justly said to be convinced.
Conviction Of sin denotes something beyond the common views of the mind concerning its sins; and is always a serious, solemn, heartfelt sense of their reality, greatness, guilt, and danger. This all sinners under the Gospel have not; as every man knows, who possesses a spirit of common observation; and peculiarly every man, who becomes a subject of this conviction. Every such man knows, that in his former, ordinary state, he had no such sense of Sin.
To explain this subject, it is necessary to observe, that there is a total difference between merely seeing, or understanding, a subject, and feeling it. A man may contemplate, as a mere object of speculation, and intellect, the downward progress of his own affairs towards bankruptcy and ruin; and have clear views of its nature and certainty; and still regard it as an object of mere speculation. Should he afterwards become a bankrupt, and thus be actually ruined, he will experience a state of mind entirely newt and altogether unlike any thing which he experienced before. He now feels the subject: before he only thought on it with cool contemplation: and, however clear his views were, they had no effect on his heart. His former views never moved him to a single
[ 433 ]
effort for the prevention of his ruin: those, which he now possesses, would have engaged him, had they existed at the proper time for this purpose, in the most vigorous exertions. Just such is the difference between the common views of sin, and those which are experienced under Religious Conviction. What, before, was only seen, is now realized and felt.
This, also is accomplished by the Law; felt, as well as understood; brought home to the heart, and strongly realized by the sinner. This fact is thus forcibly described by St. Paul: For I was alive without the law, once : but, when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. He was alive, that is, in his own feelings, while he was without the law; or while the law was no more realized, than it is by mankind in their ordinary state; while it is acknowledged to be the law of God, but not seriously regarded, applied to themselves, nor felt to be a rule of duty, obliging them; indispensably, to obey.
But when the commandment came.—The commandment was before at a distance, scarcely seen, and scarcely regarded; but now came home to him; to his sober thoughts; his realizing apprehensions.
Sin revived.—Sin began, then, first to be perceived to be his true and distressing character. It arose out of the torpid state, in which it had seemed to exist before; and assumed new life, strength, and terror. Of consequence, he, who had hitherto considered himself, while he was inattentive to the nature, and extent of the divine law, as a just man, safe, and acceptable to God, now died; now perceived himself to be a great and guilty sinner, condemned and perishing; and all his former safety, righteousness, and life, vanished in a moment.
Under conviction of sin, the law is applied by the sinner to himself, and considered as the rule of his own duty; the rule, by which his character is hereafter to be tried; and the rule, by which he himself is now to try it. Before this, no such views of the law had entered his mind: no such trial had ever been made. In this trial, the law is often, solemnly, critically, and effectually examined. Both its precepts and penalties are brought home, irresistibly, to the heart. Before, they were things with which the sinner had little or no concern. Now he finds them to be things, with which he is more deeply concerned than with any other.
II. The Nature of this conviction may be unfolded in the following manner.
In the ordinary circumstances of the mind, it is usually disposed to acknowledge that there is such a thing as sin; that it is in itself wrong, odious, mischievous to mankind, dishonourable to God, and deserving in some degree of punishment. It is usually ready to acknowledge, also, that itself is sinful, and of course exposed to the anger of God. With regard to sin, as with regard to the
[ 434 ]
law, its views arc often, perhaps generally, just in a certain degree; but are loose, careless, and inefficacious; having no other effect on the mind than to produce, at seasons rare and solitary, some reproaches of conscience, and a degree of regret and fear, feeble, momentary, and easily forgotten.
But when the man becomes a subject of religious conviction, he feels, for the first time, that sin is a real and dreadful evil. For the first time, the law of God is seen to be a righteous and reasonable law, demanding nothing but what ought to be demanded, and forbidding nothing but what ought to be forbidden. Its precepts and its penalties are both yielded to, as just; and God is acknowledged to be righteous in prescribing the former, and inflicting the latter.
Himself he readily pronounces to be a sinner, universally debased, utterly blameable, justly condemned, and justly to be punished. Instead of self-justification, and self-flattery, he is now more ready to pronounce the sentence of condemnation on himself, than on any other person; and is hardly brought to admit the pleas, advanced by others in palliation of his guilt, or in the defence of his moral character. Sin, and his own sins especially, now appear as things new, strange, and wonderful; as evils awfully serious and alarming. The law of God is now applied to himself as his own rule of duty; and obedience to it is confessed to be reasonable, indispensable, and immensely important. Every violation of its precepts, therefore, is regarded by him as a sore and dreadful evil; as guilt, which he perceives no means of wiping away; and as danger, which he finds no opportunity of escaping. An accumulation of crimes innumerable, and of guilt incomprehensible, is thus seen to have been formed by the conduct of his whole life, which, to the anxious and terrified eye of the criminal, has already swollen to the size of mountains, and ascended to the height of heaven.
These views, it is to be remembered, are wholly new to the sinner. Their novelty, of course, greatly enhances, in his eye, the terrifying and oppressive magnitude of the subject. All new things affect us more, when new, than when by frequent repetition they have become familiar. Before, he never in sober earnest believed himself to be a sinner. To find himself, therefore, to be not only a sinner, but a sinner of so guilty and blameable a character, naturally overwhelms him with anguish and dismay.
His mind, ,also, is now exceedingly alarmed, and distressed, by this afflicting discovery. On an agitated mind all things, with which it is concerned, make deep impressions; deeper far than when it is at ease; and especially those things which produced the agitation. Such, particularly, is the fact in this state of religious agitation. For both these reasons, as well as from the real greatness and nature of his guilt, the convinced man is often ready to believe, that no sinner was ever so guilty as himself.
[ 435 ]
It is not uncommon to hear persons, of no singular depravity, declare, that they are doubtful whether Judas was equally a transgressor with themselves. I have heard doubts expressed by persons, of more than common decency and amiableness, whether Satan was not less odious to God than they were: and this reason has been alleged for the doubt, that he had never sinned against forgiving and redeeming love. It is not to be wondered at, that the soul, to which these awful subjects are thus new, and which is thus terrified by its first views of them, should be even excessive in its self-condemnation.
With the greatness of its guilt, the greatness of its danger keeps an equal pace. Scarcely any thing more naturally, or more commonly, occurs to the mind in this situation, than doubts, whether such guilt, as itself has accumulated, can be forgiven. The Mercy of God, which is declared in the Scriptures to be greater than our sins, to be above the heavens, to extend to all generations, and to endure for ever, is often doubted, so far as the sinner himself is concerned; admitted easily with regard to others, and with regard to all or almost all others, it is still doubted so far as he is concerned, and is easily believed to be incapable of extending to him. Often he is strongly tempted to believe, that he has committed the unpardonable sin; and often, and much, is he busied in examining what is the nature of that sin. Instead of self-flattery, the only employment which he was formerly willing to pursue, with respect to his spiritual concerns, and which he indulged in every foolish and excessive degree, he is now wholly engaged in the opposite career of self-condemnation; and not unfrequently pursues it to an excess, equally unwarranted by the Scriptures. Nor is he at all prone to feel, that he is now equally guilty of new sin in limiting the mercy of God, and in forming new kinds of unpardonable sins, as before, in presuming, without warrant, on the exercise of divine mercy towards his hardened heart.
All these emotions are also greatly heightened by the remembrance of his former stupidity, unbelief, and hardness of heart, his light-mindedness and self-justification, his deafness to instruction, his insensibility to the calls of mercy, the reproofs of guilt, and the warnings of future wo. What before were his favourite pursuits he now considers as the means of his ruin; what before was the object of his delight is now the object of his abhorrence. That which was once his support, is now his terror: that which he accounted, and boasted of, as his wisdom, he now considers as the mere madness of Bedlam. Nor can he explain to himself how such sottishness could ever have been his conduct, or his character.
The Bible, now, its threatenings and promises, its doctrines, precepts, and ordinances, assume an aspect wholly new; for the first time real, solemn, important; the only ground of his distress; and the only source of his possible comfort. The same truth and reality,
[ 436 ]
the same solemnity and importance, at once invest the prayers, sermons, and other religious instructions, which he has heard from his parents, from ministers, and from other persons of piety. Why they did not always, and of course, wear these characteristics, is now his astonishment; why he did not covet them, listen to them, and obey them. Madness, entire and dreadful, he now readily acknowledges was in his ‘heart from the beginning-; and has hitherto constituted his only moral character.
It is not here to be supposed, that this is, in form, an exact account of the state of every convinced sinner. In substance, it may be considered as universally just. Some such sinners are subjects of far more deep and distressing convictions, than others; convictions much longer continued ; respecting some of these objects more, and others less; producing more erroneous conclusions, greater self-condemnation, deeper despondency, and, universally, more distressing agitation. Some minds are naturally more exquisitely capable of feeling, than others ; more prone to sink; less prepared to hope, to exert themselves, to reason, and to admit the conclusions, which flow from reasoning; less ready to receive consolation; and more ready to yield to these, as well as other, temptations. Some have been better instructed in early life; have been more conscientious, amiable, and exemplary; and have less to reproach themselves with in their past conduct. The Spirit of God, also, may choose to affect, and probably does affect different minds in different manners. Finally; some minds may be more surrounded by temptations and dangers, and at the same time furnished with friends less accessible, counsels less wise and directions less safe, in this season of trial and sorrow. From these and many other concurring causes it happens, that inform, degree, and continuance, convictions operate very differently on different minds: nor can any human skill limit them in these respects.
It ought by no means to be omitted here, that there are persons, especially of a steady, serene disposition, educated in a careful, religious manner, and habitually of unblameable lives, in whom the process of conviction is conformed in a great degree to their general character. These persons, to the time of their conversion, have, not uncommonly, no remarkable fears or hopes, sorrows or joys. Conscientiously, but calmly, they oppose sin; evenly, but mildly, they sorrow for it; and steadily, but with no great ardour of feeling, they labour in the duties of a religious life. In the account, which they give of their religious-views, and emotions, there is little to excite any peculiar degree of comfort in themselves, or of hope concerning them in others. Still their lives are often distinguished by uncommon excellence. Their progress is not that of a torrent now violent, now sluggish and stagnant, but that of a river silently, and uniformly, moving onward, and never delaying its course a moment in its way towards the ocean. In these persons a critical eye may discern a fixed unwarping love of
[ 437 ]
their duty, a perpetual repetition of good works, a continual advance towards the consummation of the Christian character.
In substance, however, this work is the same in all minds. All really discern the importance, reasonableness, and justice, of the divine law; their own violations of its precepts; the guilt, which they have in this manner incurred; the righteousness of God, in punishing them for it; and the extreme danger, to which they are therefore exposed. No sinner can turn from sin to holiness, without seeing the evil and danger of the one, and the excellence and safety of the other. No sinner can turn from sin to holiness, without knowing, and acknowledging, his own sin and danger; the reasonableness of the divine law; and the justice of God in punishing his transgression’s.
III. The immediate consequences of this conviction next demand our attention.
On this subject it is necessary to observe in the beginning, that the sinner is still altogether a sinner. The only difference between his present and former character is, that, before, he was an unconvinced, and now, a convinced, sinner. Before, he was ignorant of his true character: now he understands it clearly.
Hence, it will be remembered, all his resolutions, efforts, and conduct, will partake of his general character; and will of course he sinful. Between his conscience and his affections, there is now a more complete and open opposition, than ever before. His conscience justifies God, approves of the divine law, and in spite of himself acquiesces in his condemnation; but his heart is still utterly opposed to all these things, and usually more opposed to them than ever.
He is, indeed, afraid to sin; but it is because he dreads the punishment annexed to it; not because he hates the sin. Nor is it an unknown, nor probably a very unfrequent, case, that these very fears become to him motives to continue in sin, and even to give himself up wholly to sinning. Under the influence of his fears, he is not unfrequently disposed to conclude, that there is no hope for him; and that, therefore, he may as well, and even better, indulge himself in wickedness, than attempt a repentance and reformation, which his deceitful heart, and probably all his spiritual enemies, represent as too late, and therefore fruitless. From this danger, some, it is not improbable, never escape; but return, like the dog to his vomit, and like the sow, that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire. Still, I apprehend, this is very far from being a common case. A very small number only, as I believe, compared with the whole, yield themselves up to ruin in this deplorable manner. Perhaps no one, who persisted in his efforts to gain eternal life, was ever finally deserted by the Spirit of grace.
To such, as perseveringly continue in their endeavours, the next natural step in their progress, the first great consequence of conviction of sin, is to inquire most earnestly what they shall do to be
[ 438 ]
saved. Of the anguish, produced by such conviction, the text furnishes us with a very forcible example. No picture was perhaps ever more striking, than that which is given us of the extreme agitation of the Jailer, in the text. He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? An agitation, not unlike this, frequently occupies the hearts of others; and prompts them with the same earnestness to make the same solemn and affecting inquiry.
Antecedently to this period, the sinner has, in many instances, lived without a single sober thought of asking this question at all. Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee; has been his only language to repentance and reformation. The subject has never become seriously interesting to him before. Before, he has never seen his guilt, nor his danger.. Before, he has not wished for salvation ; has found good enough in the world, in sin, and in sense, to prevent all anxiety about future good; considered this as present and real; and regarded that as distant, doubtful, and imaginary. But now his danger of ruin; and his necessity of deliverance, appear in their full strength. In this situation, he makes this great inquiry with all possible solicitude. His happiness, his life, his soul, in the utmost danger of being lost for ever, are felt to be suspended on the answer. He beholds God, his own enemy, and an unchangeable enemy to sin and impenitence, now rising up to destroy him utterly, and to pour out upon him his wrath and indignation. In the deepest anguish he searches with prying eyes for a place of safety.
Here he first finds himself at a total loss concerning what he shall do. Here he first discovers his own ignorance of this great subject. Before, he was rich, and had need of nothing; had eyes, which saw clearly all wisdom; understood all that he needed to know, or do; and wanted no instruction nor information from others. Now he first finds himself to be, and to have been poor, and wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked, and in want of all things. Now, instead of deciding on questions of the greatest moment, and difficulty, in Theology, and deciding roundly without examination, or knowledge, he is desirous of being instructed in small and plain things; and instead of feeling his former contempt for those, who are skilled in them, he becomes humble, docile, desirous of being taught, and disposed to regard with sincere respect such as are able to teach him.
At the same time, he especially betakes himself to the source of all instruction in things of this nature: the Word of God. This book he searches with all anxiety of mind, to find information, and hope. The threatenings and alarms, which before hindered him from reading the Scriptures, now engage him to read them. His own danger and guilt he now labours thoroughly to learn; and is impatient to know the worst of his case. Whatever he finds there
[ 439 ]
recorded, he readily admits, however painful, and employs himself no more either: in doubting, or finding fault. To the former he has bidden adieu: the latter he knows to be fruitless. However guilty the Bible exhibits him, he is prepared to consider himself as being at least equally guilty. However dangerous it declares his case to be, he is prepared to acknowledge the danger.
In this distress, it will be easily supposed, he also searches for the means of deliverance. For these he labours with the deepest concern. Hence he reads, examines, and ponders, with an interest, new and peculiar; with fear and trembling; with critical attention to every sentiment, declaration, and word; with an earnest disposition to find relief and consolation in any and every passage, where it can be found. The Bible is now no longer the neglected, forgotten, despised book, which it formerly was; but his chief resort; the man of his counsel; the rule of his conduct. To him it has now become, for the first time, the word of God, and the means of eternal life.
All the difficulties, which heretofore prevented, him from being present in the house of God, have now vanished. The disagreeable weather, the personal indispositions, the indolence which seemed like an indisposition, the plainness of the preacher, the inelegance of the sermon, and the imperfection of the psalmody, keep him at home no more. In this solemn place he listens to all that is uttered; and watches all that is done. The preachers words become as goads; piercing to the dividing asunder of the soul and the Spirit, of the joints and marrow.
At his former listlessness he is now amazed; as well as at that, which he still beholds in others around him. The Sabbath, no longer a dull, wearisome day, of which the hours dragged heavily, and during which he could hardly find any tolerable means of passing the time, now becomes a season of activity and industry, unceasing and intense; a season, waited for with anxiety, and welcomed with hope and joy. The sanctuary, no longer regarded as a place of mere confinement, as the scene of tedious, dull, unmeaning rites, where grave people were believed to assemble for scarcely any other purpose, except to keep gay ones in order, has now become the house of the living God, and the Gate of heaven ; the place, where he expects to find, if he finds at all, an escape from death, and the way to eternal life.
In the mean time, he cries mightily unto God for deliverance from sin and ruin. Prayer, long, perhaps from the beginning of his life, unused, unknown, and unthought of, or, if thought of at all, and attempted, always a burden, now becomes his most natural conduct. He sees, and feels, that God alone can deliver him; and therefore irresistibly looks to him for deliverance; oftentimes, indeed, with fear even to pray, from the strong sense which he entertains of his absolute unworthiness; and his unfitness to perform this first, most natural, most reasonable, of all religious
[ 540 ]
services. Sensible how impure an appearance he must make before that God, in whose sight the heavens are unclean, and whose angels are charged with folly, he feels unwilling, like the Publican, even to lift up his eyes towards Heaven; but, smiting his breast, cries out with importunate anguish, God be merciful to me, a sinner!
But he cannot be prevented from praying. His cries for mercy, and those at times involuntary and ejaculatory, are forced from him by the sense of his guilt, and his fears of perdition. They often break out in his walks, in the course of his daily employments, and in his occasional journeyings: they spring from his meditations; they ascend from his pillow. The question, whether a sinner shall be directed to pray, has become nugatory to him; and has been decided, not by metaphysical disquisition, but by the controlling anguish of his heart.
During this season of struggling for salvation, it is no unfrequent thing for his despondency to continue, to return at intervals with more weight, and to sink him deeper in distress; according to the different states of his mind, and the nature of the different subjects, which occupy his thoughts.
It is all along to be kept in view, that, as I have heretofore remarked, this state of things is very different in different persons varying almost endlessly in manner and degree. In some instances comparatively calm, quiet, and of an even tenour; in others disturbed, distressed, and tumultuous. Still it is also to be remembered, that substantially it is the same.
During this state of mind, it is further to be observed, the sinner forsakes, of course, many of his former favourite objects; especially his diversions, his gayety, his loose companions, and his haunts of sin. These he now perceives, and feels, to be the seats, and sources, of temptation, danger, and sorrow. Hence he shuns them with vigilant care, and lively dread; not from virtuous motives, but from the fear of rendering his case more dreadful and hopeless.
But none of his efforts give him rest.. Neither his affections, desires, nor labours, are virtuous in the Evangelical sense, or commendable in the sight of God. His sense of danger only, and his apprehension of the inestimable importance of escaping, originally asleep or dead; is now alive and awake. This feeling, and its necessary effects, constitute the only change in his condition. No real goodness, no moral excellence, nothing really acceptable to God, is yet begun in his mind, or supposed to be begun. To be sensible that we are sinners, is not the result of virtue. There is no real goodness in being afraid of the anger of God. There is not, necessarily, any thing holy in acknowledging, that God is just in inflicting punishment, which has been deserved. These things may all exist without any hatred of sin, and love to God, or any faith in the Redeemer.
[ 441 ]
The prayers, which he daily offers up to his Maker, are not the offspring of piety, but of terror. The Child, who sees the rod brought out to view, and beholds correction at the door, is ever ready to supplicate for pity and forgiveness, and to promise whatever may contribute to his escape from the impending danger. Yet he is not of course a dutiful child.
Still these efforts of the sinner are useful to him. No unregenerated man was probably ever convinced, except by trying his own strength, that he was unable, of himself, to perform virtuous actions; to pray, to serve, and to glorify God: unable, I mean, in this sense; that he has no heart, no inclination, to perform these duties; and that he will never possess a better disposition, but by the renovating agency of the Spirit of God. The more be labours, however, the more clearly he will perceive his services to be all essentially defective, and really sinful. The more he prays, the more unworthy he pronounces his prayers. An unconvinced sinner always believes that he can pray in a manner acceptable to God: a convinced sinner readily declares, that he cannot pray in a manner, acceptable, not to God, but even to himself.
In the struggle thus continued, and thus earnestly conducted, he learns how obstinate his sinful dispositions are, and with what hopeless difficulty they are to be overcome. Convinced at length, that all his efforts must, without the immediate assistance of God, prove entirely vain, he casts off all his dependence on himself, and turns his eye to God, with the feelings of Peter, when beginning to sink, and cries out in his language, Lord save me, or I perish!
1st. From these observations we learn the use and influence of the Law of God in promoting the work of conversion.
The Law evidently begins this work in the soul; or, perhaps, in more accurate language, it begins, and produces, that state of thought and affection, in which the Soul is usually turned to God. Without the terrors of the Law this state of mind would manifestly never be produced, unless the whole tenour of Divine Providence should be changed. Yet this, so far as we can see, is a natural and necessary pre-requisite to conversion. The sinner entirely needs thus to understand, and feel, his condition ; his guilt, his danger, his helplessness, and his absolute necessity of being renewed by the Spirit of Grace. By the Law alone is he enabled clearly to see, and strongly to feel, these interesting things. From the same source of instruction he learns the true nature of his own efforts: for it is by a comparison of them with this standard of perfection, that he sees how destitute they are of all real holiness, and how unavailing to recommend him to God. In a word, from the Law only does he gain the knowledge, that he is spiritually sick and stands in infinite need of the divine Physician.
[ 442 ]
2dly. These observations also teach us the necessity, as well as the usefulness, of that preaching, which explains, and enforces, the nature of the Law.
It is not unfrequent to hear both preachers themselves; and many other persons, condemn the preaching of the Law. These persons dwell much on the endearing benevolence of the Gospel, the riches of the Divine Goodness displayed in it, and the importance, and wisdom, of winning sinners to embrace it. On the other hand, they censure with no small severity the preaching of the law, and those who, in this manner, attempt to alarm sinners concerning their moral condition. If the things, which have been said in this discourse, are admitted to be just; it must also be admitted, that ;these persons know very little of the important subjects, which they handle in this free and unhappy manner. They must plainly be ignorant of the nature both of the Law and the Gospel; of the sinner's danger and guilt; the means of his deliverance; the nature of both conviction and conversion; the use of convictions towards conversion; and the use of the Law in exciting them.
It has, I trust, been clearly shown, that the Law is absolutely necessary to rouse the sinner from his sleep of death, to point out
to him his danger, and to induce him to seek for relief. To the s~ necessity of the Law for this purpose, the necessity of preaching it, is exactly proportioned. Nothing else will accomplish the end. So long as this is kept out of view, other things will only sooth the sinner. If he views God as merciful without any regard to his justice, as forgiving without solid reasons: without an atonement, and without the application of that atonement to himself; he will be fearfully deceived; and trust in that mercy, on terms, and with views, agreeably to which it can never be exercised.
This method of decrying the divine Law, and the preaching of is a dangerous method of
flattering sinners to destruction, and of sewing pillows under all arm-holes.
Christ, the Prophets, and the Apostles, acted in a very different manner. They stung sinners to the quick ; pricked them to the heart with strong, solemn, and affecting representations of their guilt, their danger, and their approaching damnation; roused them from their slumbers; and forced them to listen, feel, and ad.
The nature of the case shows the reasonableness, and excellency, of their example, and the propriety and wisdom of following it: while, at the same time, it holds out the folly of those who disuse, as well as those who censure, preaching of this nature. We need not be at all afraid, lest sinners in modern times should be more easily affected,, than they were in ancient times. Their hearts are by no means peculiarly tender; but, like the hearts of those who lived informer days, resemble the rock, and need both the fire and the hammer to break them in pieces.
Some persons are probably afraid to preach in this manner, lest they should give pain to their hearers, and hazard their own popularity.
[ 443 ]
These men either destroy, or prevent, much good, by standing in the place of such preachers, as, like Boanerges, would thunder an alarm in the ears of sleeping guilt, and rouse the torpid soul to a sense of its danger.
3dly. From these observations we also learn the necessity of the Gospel to the accomplishment of this great work.
If the sinner were left wholly to the Law, he would sink, and die: for it gives him neither encouragement nor hope. While the Law is of mighty and indispensable use, to rouse him from his sloth, and awaken him to vigorous exertions for his deliverance; the Gospel is the only foundation of hope, that these exertions will be of any use. Without this hope he would do nothing, but despair. It is indispensable, therefore, that the Gospel should follow the Law in all sound preaching; that, when the sinner is roused to inquire what he shall do to be saved, he may find encouragement in its glorious promises and invitations. In this manner he learns, on the one hand, his ruined condition by nature and by practice, and, on the other, that safe and happy state, into which he may be introduced by the grace of God. Thus the adaptation, and utility, of the whole Word of God, to the purposes designed by it, are strongly manifest; the wisdom of all things contained in it, as the word of life; their excellency, their glory, and their resemblance to its Author. Thus, also, is it commended to our study, contemplation, wonder, and praise.