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But as this distinctness, as to method, is no certain sign that a person is converted; so, being without it is no evidence that a person is not converted. For, though it might be made evident to a demonstration, on scripture principles, that a sinner cannot be brought heartily to receive Christ as his Saviour, who is not convinced of his sin and misery, his own emptiness and helplessness, and his just desert of eternal condemnation—and therefore such convictions must be someway implied in what is wrought in his soul-yet nothing proves it to be necessary, that all those things which are implied or presupposed in an act of faith in Christ, must be plainly and distinctly wrought in the soul, in so many successive and separate works of the Spirit, that shall be each one manifest, in all who are truly converted. On the contrary, (as Mr. SHEPARD observes), sometimes the change made in a saint, at first work, is like a confused chaos; so that the saints know not what to make of it. The manner of the Spirit's proceeding in them that are born of the Spirit, is very often exceeding mysterious and unsearchable: we, as it were, hear the sound of it, the effect is discernible; but no man can tell whence it came, or whither it went. And it is oftentimes as difficult to know the way of the Spirit in the new birth, as in the first birth: Eccl. xi. 5. Thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit, or how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God, that worketh all. The ingenerating of a principle of grace in the soul, seems in scripture to be compared to the conceiving of Christ in the womb, Gal. iv. 19. And therefore the church is called Christ's mother, Cant. iii. 11. And so is every particular believer, Matth. xii. 49, 50. And the conception of Christ in the womb of the blessed virgin, by the power of the Holy Ghost, seems to be a designed resemblance of the conception of Christ, in the soul of a believer, by the power of the same Holy Ghost. And we know not what is the way of the Spirit, in the heart that conceives this holy child. The new creature may use that language in Psal. cxxxix. 14, 15. I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret. Concerning the generation of Christ, both in his person, and also in the hearts of his people, it may be said, as in Is. liii. S. Who can declare his generation? We know not the works of God, that worketh all. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, (Prov. xxv. 2.) and to have his path as it were in the mighty waters, that his footsteps may not be known: and especially in the works of his Spirit on the hearts of men, which are the highest and chief of his works. And therefore it is said, Is. xl. 13. Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? It is to be
feared that some have gone too far towards directing the Spirit of the Lord, and marking out his footsteps for him, and limiting him, to certain steps and methods. Experience plainly shews that God's Spirit is unsearchable and untraceable, in some of the best of Christians, as to the method of his operations in their conversion. Nor does the Spirit of God proceed discernibly in the steps of a particular established scheme, one half so often as is imagined. A scheme of what is necessary, and according to a rule already received and established by common opinion, has a vast, though to many a very insensible influence in forming men's notions of the steps and method of their own experiences. I know very well what their way is; for I have had much opportunity to observe it. Very often, at first, their experiences appear like a confused chaos, as Mr. SHEPARD expresses it: but then, those passages of their experience are picked out, that have most of the appearance of such particular steps that are insisted on; and these are dwelt upon in the thoughts, and from time to time, in the relation they give. These parts grow and brighten in their view; and others, being neglected, grow more and more obscure. What they have experienced is insensibly strained to bring all to an exact conformity to the scheme established. And it becomes natural for ministers, who have to deal with, and direct them while insisting upon distinctness and clearness of method, to do so too. But yet there has been so much to be seen of the operations of the Spirit of God, of late, that they who have had much to do with souls, and are not blinded with a seven-fold vail of prejudice, must know that the Spirit is so exceeding various in his manner of operating, that in many cases it is impossible to trace him or find out his way.
What we have principally to do with, in our inquiries into our own state, or the directions we give to others, is the nature of that effect which God has brought to pass in the soul. As to the steps which the Spirit took to bring that effect to pass, we may leave them to him. We are often in scripture expressly directed to try ourselves by the nature of the fruits; but no where by the Spirit's method of producing them*. Many greatly err in their notions
* Mr. SHEPARD, speaking of the soul's closing with Christ, says, "As a child cannot tell how his soul comes into it, nor it may be when; but afterwards it sees and feels that life; so that he were as bad as a beast, that should deny an immortal soul; so here." Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part II. p. 171.
"If the man do not know the time of his conversion, or first closing with Christ; the minister may not draw any peremptory conclusion from thence, that he is not godly." STODDARD's Guide to Christ, p. 83.
"Do not think there is no compunction, or sense of sin, wrought in the soul, because you cannot se clearly discern and feel it; nor the time of the working, and first beginning of it. I have known many that have come with their complaints, that they were never humbled, they never felt it so; yet there it hath been, and many times they have seen it, by the other spectacles, and blessed God for it." Shepard's Sound Believer, page 38. The late impression in Boston.
of a clear work of conversion; calling that a clear work, where the successive steps of influence, and method of experience is clear whereas that indeed is the clearest work, (not where the order of doing is clearest, but) where the spiritual and divine nature of the work done, and effect wrought, is most clear.
It is no certain sign that affections have in them the nature of true religion, or that they have not, that they dispose persons to spend much time in religion, and to be zealously engaged in the external duties of worship.
This has, very unreasonably, of late been looked upon as an argument against the religious affections of some, that they spend so much time in reading, praying, singing, hearing sermons, and the like. It is plain from the scripture, that it is the tendency of true grace to cause persons very much to delight in such religious exercises. True grace had this effect on Anna the prophetess; Luke ii. 37. She departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And grace had this effect upon the primitive Christians in Jerusalem; Acts ii. 46, 47. And they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat Grace with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God. made Daniel delight in the duty of prayer, and solemnly to attend it three times a day: as it also did David, Psal. lv. 17. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray. Grace makes the saints delight in singing praises to God: Psal. cxxxv. 3. Sing praises unto his name, for it is pleasant. And cxlvii. 1. Praise ye the Lord; for it is good to sing praises unto our God: for it is pleasant, and praise is comely. It also causes them to delight to hear the word of God preached: it makes the gospel a joyful sound to them, Psal. lxxxix. 15. and makes the feet of those who publish these good tidings, to be beautiful; Is. lii. 7. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings! &c. It makes them love God's public worship; Psal. xxvi. Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. And Psal. xxvii. 4. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. Psal. lxxx. 1, 2, &c. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! my soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where
she may lay her young, even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Blessed is the man in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca, -go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God.-Ver. 10. A day in thy courts is better than a thousand.
This is the nature of true grace. But yet, on the other hand, persons being disposed to abound and to be zealously engaged in the external exercises of religion, and to spend much time in them, is no sure evidence of grace; because such a disposition is found in many who have no grace. So it was with the Israelites of old, whose services were abominable to God; they attended the new moons, and sabbaths, and calling of assemblies; and spread forth their hands, and made many prayers, Is. i. 12—15. So it was with the Pharisees; they made long prayers, and fasted twice a week. False religion may cause persons to be loud and earnest in prayer: Is. lviii. 4. Ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to cause your voice to be heard on high. That religion which is not spiritual and saving, may cause men to delight in religious duties and ordinances, Is. lviii. 2. Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice: they take delight in approaching to God. It may cause them to take delight in hearing the word of God preached; as it was with Ezekiel's hearers, Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. Herod heard John the Baptist gladly, Mark vi. 20. and others of his hearers, for a season, rejoiced in his light, John v. 35. So the stony-ground hearers heard the word with joy.
Experience shews, that persons, from false religion, may be abundant in the external exercises of religion; yea, to give theinselves up to them, and devote almost their whole time to them.— Formerly, a sort of people were very numerous in the Romish church, called recluses, who forsook the world, and utterly abandoned the society of mankind. They shut themselves up close in a narrow cell, with a vow never to stir out of it, nor to see the face of any, (unless that they might be visited in case of sickness ;) but to spend all their days in the exercises of devotion and converse with God. There were also in old time, great multitudes called Hermites and Anchorites, who left the world in order to
spend all their days in lonesome deserts, and to give themselves up to religious contemplations and exercises of devotion. Some sorts of them had no dwellings, but the caves and the vaults of the mountains, and no food, but the spontaneous productions of the earth. I once lived, for many months, next door to a Jew, (the houses adjoining one to another,) and had much opportunity daily to observe him; who appeared to me the devoutest person that ever I saw in my life; great part of his time being spent in acts of devotion, at his eastern window, which opened next to mine, seeming to be most earnestly engaged, not only in the day-time, but sometimes whole nights.
Nothing can be certainly known of the nature of religious Affections, that they may much dispose persons with their mouths to praise and glorify God.
This indeed is implied in what has been just now observed of abounding and spending much time in the external exercises of religion, and was also hinted before; but because many seem to look upon it as a bright evidence of gracious affection, when persons appear greatly disposed to praise and magnify God, to have their mouths full of his praises, and affectionately to be calling on others to praise and extol him, I thought it deserved a more particular consideration.
No Christian will make it an argument against a person, that he seems to have such a disposition. Nor can it reasonably be looked upon as an evidence for a person, if those things which have been already observed and proved be duly considered, viz. that persons without grace may have high affections towards God and Christ, and that there may be counterfeits of all kinds of gracious affection. But it will appear more evidently and directly, that this is no certain sign of grace, if we consider what instances the scripture gives us of it in those that were graceless. We often have an account of this in the multitude that were present when Christ preached and wrought miracles; Mark ii. 12. And immediately he arose, took up his bed, and went forth before them all, insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion. So Matt. ix. 8. and Luke v. 26. Also Matth. xv. 31. Insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. So we are told, that on occasion of Christ raising the son of the widow of Nain, Luke vii. 16. There came a fear on