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to do evil; learn to do well." If ever you desire that God should work in you that faith, whereof cometh both present and eternal salvation, by the grace already given, fly from all sin as from the face of a serpent; carefully avoid every evil word and work; yea, abstain from all appearance of evil. And "learn to do well :" be zealous of good works, of works of piety, as well as works of mercy; family prayer, and crying to God in secret. Fast in secret, and " your Father which seeth in secret, he will reward you openly." "Search the Scriptures:" hear them in public, read them in private, and meditate therein. At every opportunity, be a partaker of the Lord's supper. "Do this in remembrance" of him; and he will meet you at his own table. Let your conversation be with the children of God; and see that it "be in grace, seasoned with salt." As ye have time, do good unto all men; to their souls and to their bodies. And herein "be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." It then only remains, that ye deny yourselves and take up your cross daily. Deny yourselves every pleasure which does not prepare you for taking pleasure in God, and willingly embrace every means of drawing near to God, though it be a cross, though it be grievous to flesh and blood. Thus when you have redemption in the blood of Christ, you will "go on to perfection;" till "walking in the light as he is in the light," you are enabled to testify, that "he is faithful and just," not only to "forgive [your] sins, but to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.'
III. 1. "But (say some) what connection is there between the former and the latter clause of this sentence? Is there not rather a flat opposition between the one and the other? If it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do, what need is there of our working? Does not his working thus supersede the necessity of our working at all? Nay, does it not render our working impracticable, as well as unnecessary For if we allow that God does all, what is there left for us to do?"
2. Such is the reasoning of flesh and blood. And at first hearing, it is exceeding plausible. But it is not solid; as will evidently appear, if we consider the matter more deeply. We shall then see, there is no opposition between these; "God works; therefore, do ye work ;"-but, on the contrary, the closest connection; and that in two respects. For, first, God works; therefore you can work; secondly, God works, therefore you must work.
3. First, God worketh in you; therefore, you can work: otherwise it would be impossible. If he did not work, it would be impossible for you to work out your own salvation. "With man this is impossible," saith our Lord, "for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.' Yea, it is impossible for any man; for any that is born of a woman; unless God work in him. Seeing all men are, by nature, not only sick, but "dead in trespasses and in sins," it is not possible for them to do any thing well, till God raises them from the dead. It was impossible for Lazarus to come forth, till the Lord had given him life. And it is equally impossible for us to come out of our sins, yea, or to make the least motion towards it, till he who hath all power in heaven and earth,' calls our dead souls into life.
4. Yet this is no excuse for those who continue in sin, and lay the blame upon their Maker, by saying, "It is God only that must quicken us; for we cannot quicken our own souls." For allowing that all the
souls of men are dead in sin by nature, this excuses none, seeing there is no man that is in a state of mere nature; there is no man, unless he has quenched the Spirit, that is wholly void of the grace of God. No man living is entirely destitute of what is vulgarly called natural conscience. But this is not natural: it is more properly termed, preventing grace. Every man has a greater or less measure of this, which waiteth not for the call of man. Every one has, sooner or later, good desires; although the generality of men stifle them before they can strike deep root, or produce any considerable fruit. Every one has some measure of that light, some faint glimmering ray, which sooner or later, more or less, enlightens every man that cometh into the world. And every one, unless he be one of the small number, whose conscience is seared as with a hot iron, feels more or less uneasy when he acts contrary to the light of his own conscience. So that no man sins because he has not grace, but because he does not use the grace which he hath.
5. Therefore, in as much as God works in you, you are now able to work out your own salvation. Since he worketh in you of his own good pleasure, without any merit of yours, both to will and to do, it is possible for you to fulfil all righteousness. It is possible for you to "love God, because he hath first loved us ;" and to "walk in love," after the pattern of our great Master. We know, indeed, that word of his to be absolutely true; "Without me, ye can do nothing." But on the other hand, we know, every believer can say, "I can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth me.'
6. Meantime let us remember, that God has joined these together in the experience of every believer and therefore we must take care, not to imagine they are ever to be put asunder. We must beware of that mock humility, which teacheth us to say, in excuse for our wilful disobedience, "Oh, I can do nothing:" and stops there, without once naming the grace of God. Pray, think twice. Consider what you say. I hope you wrong yourself. For if it be really true that you can do nothing, then you have no faith. And if you have not faith, you are in a wretched condition: you are not in a state of salvation. Surely it is not so. You can do something through Christ strengthening you. Stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and he will give you more grace.
7. Secondly: God worketh in you; therefore, you must work : you must be "workers together with him," (they are the very words of the apostle,) otherwise he will cease working. The general rule on which his gracious dispensations invariably proceed is this: "Unto him that hath, shall be given: but from him that hath not ;" that does not improve the grace already given; "shall be taken away what he assuredly hath" (so the words ought to be rendered.) Even St. Augustine, who is generally supposed to favour the contrary doctrine, makes that just remark, Qui fecit nos sine nobis, non salvabit nos sine nobis: "He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves." He will not save us, unless we "save ourselves from this untoward generation;" unless we ourselves " fight the good fight of faith, and lay hold on eternal life;" unless we "agonize to enter in at the strait gate," 'deny ourselves, and take up our cross daily," and labour by every possible means, to "make our own calling and election sure."
8. Labour" then, brethren, "not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth to everlasting life." Say with our blessed Lord
though in a somewhat different sense, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." In consideration that he still worketh in you, be never I weary of well doing." Go on, in virtue of the grace of God, preventing, accompanying, and following you, in "the work of faith, in the patience of hope, and the labour of love." "Be ye steadfast, and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." And "the God of peace, who brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of his sheep, [Jesus,] make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you what is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever!"
SERMON XCI.-A Call to Backsliders.
"Will the Lord absent himself for ever? And will he be no more entreated? "Is his mercy clean gone for ever? And is his promise come utterly to an end, for evermore?" Psa. lxxvii, 7, 8.
1. PRESUMPTION is one grand snare of the devil, in which many of the children of men are taken. They so presume upon the mercy of God, as utterly to forget his justice. Although he has expressly declared, "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord," yet they flatter themselves, that, in the end, God will be better than his word. They imagine they may live and die in their sins, and nevertheless "escape the damnation of hell."
2. But although there are many that are destroyed by presumption, there are still more that perish by despair. I mean, by want of hope; by thinking it impossible they should escape destruction. Having many times fought against their spiritual enemies, and always been overcome, they lay down their arms; they no more contend, as they have no hope of victory. Knowing, by melancholy experience, that they have no power of themselves to help themselves, and having no expectation that God will help them, they lie down under their burden: they no longer strive; for they suppose it is impossible they should attain.
3. In this case, as in a thousand others, "the heart knoweth its own bitterness, but a stranger intermeddleth not with his grief." It is not easy for those to know it, who never felt it. For "who knoweth the things of a man, but the spirit of a man that is in him?" Who knoweth, unless by his own experience, what this sort of wounded spirit means? Of consequence, there are few that know how to sympathize with them that are under this sore temptation. There are few that have duly considered the case; few that are not deceived by appearances. They see men go on in a course of sin, and take it for granted, it is out of mere presumption: whereas, in reality, it is from the quite contrary principle: it is out of mere despair. Either they have no hope at all: and while that is the case, they do not strive at all; or they have some intervals of hope, and while that lasts, "strive for the mastery." But that hope soon fails: they then cease to strive, and "are taken captive of Satan at his will."
4. This is frequently the case with those that began to run well, but soon tired in the heavenly road: with those in particular, who once
saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ;" but afterwards
grieved his Holy Spirit, and made shipwreck of the faith. Indeed, many of these rush into sin, as a horse into the battle. They sin with so high a hand, as utterly to quench the Holy Spirit of God; so that he gives them up to their own hearts' lusts, and lets them follow their own imaginations. And those who are thus given up may be quite stupid, without either fear, or sorrow, or care; utterly easy and unconcerned about God, or heaven, or hell; to which the god of this world contributes not a little, by blinding and hardening their hearts. But still even these would not be so careless, were it not for despair. The great reason why they have no sorrow or care, is because they have no hope. They verily believe they have so provoked God, that "he will be no more intreated."
5. And yet we need not utterly give up even these. We have known some, even of the careless ones, whom God has visited again, and restored to their first love. But we may have much more hope for those backsliders who are not careless, who are still uneasy: those who fain would escape out of the snare of the devil, but think it is impossible. They are fully convinced they cannot save themselves, and believe God will not save them. They believe he has irrevocably "shut up his loving kindness in displeasure." They fortify themselves in believing this, by abundance of reasons; and unless those reasons are clearly removed, they cannot hope for any deliverance.
It is in order to relieve those hopeless, helpless souls, that I propose, with God's assistance,
I. To inquire, What the chief of those reasons are, some or other of which induce so many backsliders to cast away hope; to suppose that God hath forgotten to be gracious. And,
II. To give a clear and full answer to each of those reasons.
I. I am, first, to inquire, What the chief of those reasons are, which induce so many backsliders to think that God hath forgotten to be gracious. I do not say all the reasons: for innumerable are those which either their own evil hearts, or that old serpent will suggest; but the chief of them: those that are most plausible, and therefore most common.
1. The first argument which induces many backsliders to believe that "the Lord will be no more intreated," is drawn from the very reason of the thing: "If," say they," a man rebel against an earthly prince, many times he dies for the first offence; he pays his life for the first transgression; yet, possibly, if the crime be extenuated by some favourable circumstances, or if strong intercession be made for him, his life may be given him: but if, after a full and free pardon he were guilty of rebelling a second time, who would dare to intercede for him? He must expect no farther mercy. Now if one rebelling against an earthly king, after he has been freely pardoned once, cannot with any colour of reason hope to be forgiven a second time; what must be the case of him that, after having been freely pardoned for rebelling against the great King of heaven and earth, rebels against him again? What can be expected, but that 'vengeance will come upon him to the uttermost?" "
II. 1. This argument, drawn from reason, they enforce by several passages of Scripture. One of the strongest of these, is that which occurs in the first epistle of St. John, v, 16: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and God shall give
him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death. I do not say that he shall pray for it."
Hence they argue," Certainly, I do not say that he shall pray for it, is equivalent with, I say he shall not pray for it. So the apostle supposes him that has committed this sin, to be in a desperate state indeed! So desperate, that we may not even pray for his forgiveness: we may not ask life for him: and what may we more reasonably suppose to be a sin unto death, than a wilful rebellion after a full and free pardon?"
2. "Consider, secondly," say they, "those terrible passages in the epistle to the Hebrews; one of which occurs in the sixth chapter, the other in the tenth. To begin with the latter: 'If we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no other sacrifice for sin; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and done despite to the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance is mine: I will recompense, saith the Lord It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!' verse 26-31. Now is it not here expressly declared by the Holy Ghost, that our case is desperate? Is it not declared, that 'if after we have received the knowledge of the truth;' after we have experimentally known it; 'we sin wilfully;' which we have undoubtedly done, and that over and over; 'there remaineth no other sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries?'
3. "And is not that passage in the sixth chapter exactly parallel with this? It is impossible for those that were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, -If they fall away,' (literally, and have fallen away,) to renew them again unto repentance: seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame," " verse 4-6.
4. It is true, some are of opinion, that those words, it is impossible, are not to be taken literally, as denoting absolute impossibility; but a very great difficulty. But it does not appear that we have any sufficient reason to depart from the literal meaning; as it neither implies any absurdity, nor contradicts any other Scriptures. Does not this then, say they, cut off all hope; seeing we have undoubtedly "tasted of that heavenly gift, and been made partakers of the Holy Ghost ?" How is it possible to " renew us again to repentance;" to an entire change both of heart and life? Seeing we have crucified to ourselves "the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
5. A yet more dreadful passage, if possible, than this, is that in the twelfth chapter of St. Matthew: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men: and whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him. But whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come," ver. 31, 32. Exactly parallel to these are the words of our Lord, which are recited by St. Mark: "Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasVOL. II.