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finally to fall short of it. He sometimes glorifies his pow. er and mercy at once, by converting his most inveterate enemies, and making them the most zealous, active, and successful advocates for his caufe. Such an instance was the apostle Paul, who from a persecutor became a preacher. Sometimes conversion is speedily and suddenly brought about, and the times and circumstances of the change may be easily ascertained. This was the case with the jailor recorded in the history of the Acts of the Apostles. The same may be said of the apostle Paul; and there have been particular examples of it in every age. Sometimes, on the other hand, the reception of the truth, and renovation of the heart, goes on by flow and insensible degrees; nor is it easy to say by what means the change was begun, or at what time it was compleated. This was perhaps the case with most, if not all, the disciples of our Lord, during his personal ministry.
Sometimes the change is very signal and sensible, the growth and improvement of the spiritual life speedy and remarkable, the greatest finners becoming the most emi. nent faints; like the woman mentioned in the gospel, to whom many sins were forgiven, and who loved her Re. deemer much. Sometimes, on the other hand, the change is very doubtful, and the progress of the believer hardly discernible. Some of this fort are reproved by the apostle Paul in the following words, which are but too applicable to many professing Christians of the present age : “ For “ when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need " that one teach you again, which be the first principles “ of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need “ of milk, and not of strong meat.”*-Sometimes the convert hath much peace and sensible comfort, rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory; and sometimes, on the other hand, he is distressed with doubts and fears, and made to walk in darkness. Once more, some finners are brought in by deep and long humiliation, and are almost distracted with legal terrors, while others are power.
fully, though sweetly, constrained by the cords of divine - love. All these “ worketh the self same spirit, who divi.
* Heb. v. 12,
“ deth to every man severally as he will.” I desire, that what has now been said, may be still kept in mind ; so that if the evidences of a saving change can be produced, thère need be little folicitude about the time or manner of its being wrought.
What I propose to offer on this part of the subject, is not to be considered as in the least degree contrary to, or inconsistent with, these truths. Nay, I am not to lay down a plan and say, this is the ordinary way in which finners are brought to the saving knowledge of God, leaving it to him, in some few, uncommon, and extraordinary cases, to take sovereign steps, and admit exceptions from the ordinary rules. This is a way of speaking common enough; but though it may be very well meant, I apprehend it hath not in it much, either of truth or utility. The salvation of every child of Adam is of free, absolute, fovereign grace: and the actual change may be wrought at any time, in any manner, by any means, and will produce its effects in any measure, that to infinite wisdom shall seem proper. Nei. ther ought we to pretend to account for the diversity in any other manner than our Saviour does : “ Even so, Father, “ for so it seemed good in thy fight.”* Therefore what I have in view, is to speak of such steps in the changes as are, in substance at least, common to all true converts. It will be a sort of analysis, or more full explication of the change itself, and serve, among other uses, further to distinguish the real from the counterfeit. Too much can hardly be said on this subject : “ For what is the chaff to “ the wheat ? faith the Lord.” It will also illustrate the divine wisdom, as well as sovereignty, by showing how that diversity of operation, so remarkable in different subjects, produces in all at last the same blessed effect.
There must be a discovery of the real nature of God.
TN the first place, one important and necessary step in I bringing about a saving change, is that the finner get
* Luke x. 21.
a discovery of the real nature, the infinite majesty, and transcendent glory of the living God! Perhaps fome will he surprised, that, as usual, a conviction of fin is not men. tioned first, as the preliminary step. I enter into no quarrel or debate with those who do fo ; but I have first men. tioned the other, which is but feldom taken notice of, from a firm persuasion, that a discovery of the nature and glory of the true God lies at the foundation of all. This alone can produce falutary convictions of fin; for how can we know what sin is, till we know him against whom we have sinned. The same thing only will point out the difference between real convi&tion, and such occasional fears as never go farther than a spirit of bondage.
In support of this, you may observe, that in scripture, those who are in a natural or unconverted flate, are often described as lying in a state of ignorance or darkness. They are said to be such as know not God: “ How beit then “ when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which “ by nature are no gods."* See also the following des. cription : “ Having the understanding darkened, be. “ ing alienated from the life of God, through the igno. “ rance that is in them, because of the blindness of their “ hearts.”+ Agreeably to this, the change produced in them is represented as giving them light or understand. ing, in opposition to their former ignorance; “ to open “ their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and “ from the power of Satan unto God. I But if our golpel “ be hid, it is hid to them that are lolt, in whom the god of " this world hath blinded the minds of them which be“ lieve not, left the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, “ who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For “ God, who commanded the light to shine out of dark. “ ness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the “ knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus “ Christ.” In this way is the matter represented in scripture, much more frequently: than is commonly ob. served ; and, as the underlianding is the leading faculty in our nature, it is but reasonable to suppose that the change
• Gal, jv. 3. † Fph. iv. 1o. A
s xxvi. 18. | 2 Cor. iv. 4, 6. should begin there, by a discovery of the nature and glory of God, as the foundation of all that is afterwards to follow.
This will be further evident, if we reflect upon the account formerly given, and sufficiently supported from the holy scriptures, of the nature of this change, That it confists in a supreme regard to the glory of God, and an habitual prevailing desire of his favor. To this it is absolutely necessary, as a preliminary, that there be a discovery of the real nature and transcendent glory of God. How can any man have that as the chief and leading motive of action which he doth not understand ? How can any man have that as the supreme object of desire, which he doth not know ? Neither of these is possible ; there must, there. fore, be some such discovery as I have mentioned above. It is true, this is but imperfect at first ; there will be in the truly regenerate a growing discovery of the glory of God, as well as a growing delight in him, as its consequence: yet there must be some view of his nature, as the begin. ning of the change, and the ground-work of every holy disposition.
This discovery of God implies two things, which, as they are both necessary, so they deserve our particular attention; and it is not improper to distinguish carefully the one from the other. 1. It must be a discovery of his real nature. 2. A discovery of the worth and excellence of his nature, which is, properly speaking, the glory of God.
1. It must be a discovery of the real nature of God. He must be seen to be just such a Being as he really is, and no false or adulterated image must be placed in his room, or adored in his stead. He must be seen in his fpi. ritual nature, as almighty in his power, unsearchable in his wisdom, inviolable in his truth ; but above all, he mult be seen as infinite in his holiness and hatred of fin, as impartial in his justice, and determined to punish it. Such is the scripture representation of God, as“ glorious in his “ holiness. Evil cannot dwell with him, and finners can“ not stand in his presence.” It is the error of the wicked to suppose the contrary; and, indeed, it is the very source of wickedness to deny the being, or to deny the ho
liness of God; and these amount much to the same thing. " Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God; he hath said “ in his heart thou wilt not require it.*_ The fool hath “ faid in his heart there is no God.t-These things thou “ hast done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was “ altogether such an one as thyself, but I will reprove thee, “and let them in order before thine eyes."I
God must be seen as he is represented in his own word, which is the only rule of faith, “ the pillar and ground of “ truth.” This is a matter of the greatest importance, which, I am sorry to say, is in this age very feldom attend. ed to, but which is most manifestly and undeniably just. If God is not seen in his real nature, as he is in truth, he can never be acceptably served. If a wrong or false character of God is formed, no worship we can offer to him, no love or respect we can bear to him is genuine; or rather, to speak more properly, our fervice and attachment is, in that case, wholly misplaced, and not directed to him at all, but something else is loved, honored, and served in his room. I beseech the serious reader to observe, what an unspeakable jealousy God discovered under the Old Testament dispensation, as to the purity of his worship, and what a heinous crime all idolatry was esteemed. How great was the divine displeasure at the making and worshipping of the golden calf, although it is very probable Aaron only intended to represent the true God, by the same symbol they had seen in Egypt? Did not this belong to the substance, and not only to the circumstances of religion ? Is it not then equally interesting under the New Testament as under the Old ? Was the unchangeable God so much displeased at giving him a false name, and will be not be equally displeased with those who attribute to him a false nature ?
As this truth serves to explain the nature and rise of re. generation, so it also receives particular light and evidence itself from what has been said in the preceding parts of this subject. Regeneration consists in having the image of God again drawn upon the heart; that is, its being car
. Pfal. x. 13.
Pfal. xiy. 1.
Pfal. l. 21.