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JOHN XIV. 15, 16, 17.
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for
Even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him, for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
OUR blessed Lord might very possibly design to comprehend in this promise all the benefits, which the Holy Ghost was to confer on his followers. But his expressions plainly shew, that he had chiefly in view, not the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, but the directing and comforting influences of his grace. For these alone are given to all, who love Christ and keep his commandments: these alone were to abide with Christians for ever: these alone the world could not receive, because they would not suffer themselves to see or know them: and though, in appearance, a less illustrious, they are, in reality, a more important gift, than those of tongues and miracles. Bor though the latter were powerful means of making religion believed, the former only can bring it to be practised; and therefore it is highly necessary to teach and inculcate the doctrine of in
ward grace that men may earnestly pray for it, faithfully use it, and heartily rejoice in it. Some, indeed, have abused the persuasion of God's working in them to a neglect of working out their own salvation *. Some have mistaken the feelings of an enthusiastic warmth for testimonies of the divine Spirit; some have done extravagant, and others wicked actions, under pretence of his direction. But as their ascribing too much, can never warrant our ascribing too little to his influence on our hearts; and error is best confuted, not by maintaining the opposite error, but by setting forth the truth: I shall therefore endeavour, I. To shew the credibility of this influence from
II. To give a more certain and full account of it from Scripture:
III. To reconcile it with experience: And IV. To make suitable inferences from the whole. I. To shew its credibility from reason; which, however needless, if men regarded Scripture as they ought, may be useful in disposing them to regard it more than they do.
A little inspection into ourselves will convince us, what imperfect creatures we are; and how poorly qualified for the practice of piety and virtue. We have indeed, by nature, a general knowledge of our duty, and very just motives to it, with some dispositions in its favour. But then, on the other hand, we have much inattention to religious truths, and great prejudices against them: we have many bad inclinations to mislead us: we have an indolence that lets them easily prevail over us : we are in a world, full of ill examples and vicious maxims of life; of enticements to unlawful pleasures, provocations to immo
Phil. ii. 12, 13.
derate resentment, temptations to ambition, envy, covetousness, every sin. And sometimes a number of these enemies are combined together so strongly, and attack us so unprepared, that a much greater force, than the ordinary powers of the human mind, would be very unlikely to stand against them. And when once they overcome us, every fall makes way for another; the sensibility of conscience decays, good affections are stifled, wrong passions inflamed, wrong customs formed; and reason, habituated to be overpowered, yields at length without struggle. Now what is there to be expected, for the future, from men, unassisted in these circumstances? It does not follow, indeed, that they will always go on uniformly to destruction, without some intervals of better purposes and endeavours. From time to time their eyes shall be opened, their fears alarmed, excellent resolutions made, and, for a while, persevered in most zealously. But too soon this fervour cools, our vigilance abates, a thousand things happen to put us off our guard; and one thing alone, trusting in our own seeming strength, is sufficient to lull us into a security that will prove fatal. Sinful inclinations and habits always retain a stronger party within us, than appears; and when we least think of it, snatch a favourable opportunity and recover their empire, perhaps more absolutely than before. After some experience of this kind, men come indeed to have less confidence in themselves. But what is the usual consequence? Why, that not looking beyond themselves, at the very time of forming good purposes, they scarce hope to keep them; and so their efforts grow daily more heartless and faint, till at last they become quite weary of the fruitless trouble; and it may be, instead of trying any longer to be good,
labour to persuade themselves, that they neither need nor can be so.
This is plainly (ask your hearts if it be not) the common course of things: the daily event of the combat, between mere human virtue, and the trials, which this world throws in its way. Yet all the while it is an evident truth, that the very end of our being is, the practising of these duties, which we find so difficult; and the rooting out of these sins to which we feel ourselves so prone. Now what God hath made us for, he must some way have provided we should be able to do, in such measure as he will accept. He most clearly sees the dangers to which we are exposed, and the poor degree of strength and preparation, with which we meet them. The neverceasing influences of his providence preserve and actuate every part of the material world. And can we imagine that he, who is always taking care of all his other works, down to the very meanest things on this earth, will disregard the most important thing in it, the eternal interests of the souls of men? It would be injuring his goodness, his holiness, to think so.
It is true, beings endued with free will and choice, as we are, must not be acted on so as to destroy it, but suitably to their nature. And how many such methods may there be within the reach of infinite wisdom and power? He who hath given us all the inward principles we have, cannot he, at pleasure, repair their decays, restrain their vehemence, rectify their disorders? He, who hath established the ways by which his creatures communicate their minds one to another, must not he be able to communicate himself to them, when he judges it proper; to represent the beauty of goodness, the deformity of sin; to suggest proper motives of duty and interest; to
turn their attention from dangerous objects; to inspire them with religious and virtuous affections; to bring into their minds just and wise rules of conduct; and all this at such times, as shall be most needful for our reformation, our safety, our improvement? These invisible operations of God on our minds, are plainly no more inconsistent with our liberty, than the secret or open persuasions of our fellow-mortals are. And therefore it is perfectly credible, that as we, who have so little goodness, are prompted by it however to advise and assist each other, He, who is absolutely good, will not refuse his gracious help, in such cases as really want it; and especially to such persons, as humbly desire it, and honestly make use of it: for careless and presumptuous sinners have by no means the same ground to hope for aid from a just and holy God. But to what degree he will either strengthen the former, or admonish the latter, is entirely beyond human knowledge only this we know, that he may do what he will with his own; and will do always what he sees to be wisest and best.
Nor is the persuasion of God's enlightening and assisting men to perform their duty, a notion started in these later ages of the world; but, from early times the best and most considerate, even of the heathens, have held and taught this doctrine and all men every where implicitly own it, by offering up prayers to heaven for direction, how they should act for help and success in their attempts: of which prayers the faith of a divine interposition is the only possible ground. These things, put together, must surely, at least, prepare us to receive more readily, and with more entire confidence in it, that fuller light, of which I now proceed,