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PROVIDENCES IN CONVERSION.
THERB‘are divers things in those providences which are versant about this work, and exceedingly sweet and taking ; as,
The wonderful strangeness and unaccountableness of this work of providence in casting us into the way, and ordering the occasions, yea, the minutest circumstances about this work. Thus you find in Acts viii. 26–30, the eunuch, at that very instant when he was reading the prophet Isaiah, had an interpreter, one among a thousand, that joins his chariot just as his mind was, by a fit occasion, prepared to receive the first light of the knowledge of Christ.
So, for the conversion of the Samaritans, it is observed (John iv. 4) Christ must needs go that way, because it lay just in the road betwixt Judea and Galilee, and at the sixth hour, i. e., high noon, he rests himself upon Jacob's well, still seeming to have no other design than his own refreshment by sitting and drinking there; but, oh what a train of blessed providences follow this, which seemed but an accidental thing! First, the woman of Samaria, and then many more in that city, are brought to believe in Christ, as you find in verses 29 and 41.
It is noted by Melchior Adams, in the life of Junius, how very an atheist he grew in his younger years; but in order to his conversion to God, a wonderful preservation of his hfe, in a public tumult at Lyons, in France, must first make way, which forces from him the acknowledgment of a Deity; then his father sends for him home, and with much gentleness persuades him to read the Scriptures; he lights upon the 1st of John, and with it he sensibly feels a divine, supernatural majesty and power seizing his soul, which brought him over by a complete conversion to Jesus Christ. Thus, as the woman of Teko:ih told David, “doth God devise means to bring back his banished.”
Lavater tells us that many Spanish soldiers, going into the wars of Germany, were there converted to Christ by falling into the cities and towns where godly ministers and Christians were. · Mr. Robert Bolton, though an excellent scholar, yet in his younger years was a very irreligious person, and a jeerer of holy men ; but being cast into the company, of the good Mr. Peacock, was by him brought to repentance, and proved a famous instrument in the church of Christ.
A scrap of paper accidently coming to view hath been used as an occasion of conversion. This was the case of a minister of Wales, who had two livings, but took little care of either. He being at a fair, bought something at a pedlar's standing, and rent off a leaf of Mr. Perkin's catechism to wrap it in, and reading a line or two in it, God sent it home so as it did the work.
The marriage of a godly man into a carnal family hath been ordered by Providence for the conversion and salvation of many therein. Thus we read, in the life of that renowned English worthy, Mr. John Bruen, that in his second match it was agreed that he should have one year's diet in his mother-in-law's house ; during his abode there that year (saith Mr. Clark) the Lord was pleased, by his means, graciously to work upon her soul, as also upon his wife's sister, and half-sister, their brothers, Mr. William and Mr. Thomas Fox, with one or two of the servants in that family.
The reading of a good book hath been the means of bringing others to Christ. And thus we find many of the German divines converted by reading Luther's books : yea, and what is more strange, Mr. Sleiden, in his “commentary," tells us that Vergerius, though he were present an eye and ear-witness to that doleful case of Spira, which one would think would move a stone, yet still continued so firm to the pope's interest, that when he fell into some suspicion among the cardinals, he resolved to purge himself by writing a book against the Gerinan apostates ; but while he read the Protestant books, out of no other design but to confute thein, whilst he is weighing the arguments, is himself convinced and brought to Christ. He, finding himself thus overcome by the truth, imparts his conviction to his brother, a zealous papist also ; this brother deplores the misery of his case, and seeks to reclaim
him ; but Vergerius, entreating him to weigh well the Protestant arguments, also yields; and so both immediately betook themselves to preach justification by the free grace of God through the blood of Christ.
Yea, not only the reading of a book, or hearing of a minister, but (which is most remarkable) the very mistake or forgetfulness of a minister hath been improved by Providence for this end and purpose. Augustine, once preaching to his congregation, forgot the argument which he first proposed, and fell upon the errors of the Manichees, beside his first intention ; by which discourse he converted one Firmus, his auditor, who fell down at his feet weeping, and confessing he had lived a Manichee many years. Another I knew, who, going to preach, took up another Bible than that he designed, in which, not only missing his notes, but the chapter also in which his text lay, was put to some loss thereby; but, after a short pause, he resolved to speak to any other scripture that might be presented to him, and accordingly, read the text, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Pet. iii. 9); and though he had nothing prepared, yet the Lord helped him to speak both methodically and pertinently from it; by which discourse a gracious change was wrought upon one in the congregation, who bath since given good evidence of a sound conversion, and acknowledged this sermon to be the first and only means thereof.
The accompanying of others, in a neighbourly civil visit, hath been overruled to the same end. Thús many of the Jews accompanied Mary into Bethany, designing only to manifest their civil respect; but there they met Christ, saw the things which he did, and believed on him (John xi. 45).
Mr. Firmin, in his “ Real Christian," tells us of one who had lived many years in a town where Christ had been as clearly and as long preached as in any town in England. This man, when he was about seventy-six years of age, went to visit a sick neighbour. “A Christian friend of mine," said the author, “ came to see him also ; and finding this old man there, whom he judged to be one that lived upon his own stock, civility, good works, &c., he purposely fell into that discourse to show how many persons lived upon their duties, but never came to Christ. The old man, sitting by the bedside, heard him, and God was pleased to convince him that he was such a person who had lived upon himself, without Christ, to that day; and he would say afterwards, “ Had I died before three-score and sixteen, I had perished, for I knew not Christ.”
The committing of a godly man to prison hath been the method of Providence to save the soul of a poor keeper. So Paul (Acts xvi. 27) was made a prisoner, to make his keeper a spiritual freeman ; and the like success had Dr. Barnes, in Queen Mary's days.
The scattering of ministers and Christians, by persecution, from cities and towns into the ignorant and barbarous parts of the country, hath been the way of Providence to find out and bring home some lost sheep to Jesus Christ (Acts viii, 1–4). The like signal event hath since followed upon the like scattering of godly ministers, whereof are many pregnant instances at this day.
A servant running away from his master, likely upon no other design but to live an idle life, yet falling into such places and companies as Providence ordered, in a design to him unknown, hath thereby been brought to be a servant of Christ. This was the very case of Onesimus, who ran away from his master Philemon to Rome, where, by a strange providence, possibly a mere curiosity to see the prisoners, he there falls into Paul's hands, who begat him to Christ in his bonds (Philemon, verses 10--16)..
Going to hear a sermon in jest hath proved some men's conversion in earnest. The above named Mr. Firmin, in the fore-cited book, tells us of a notorious drunkard whom the drunkards called " Father," that one day would needs go to hear what Wilson said, out of no other design, it seems, but to scoff at that holy man; but, in the prayer before sermon, his heart began to thaw, and when he read his text, which was, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (John v. 14), he could not contain ; and in that sermon the Lord changed his heart, though formerly so bitter an enemy, that the minister on lecture days was afraid to go to church
before his shop door. “Lo, these are parts of His ways : but how small a portion is known of Him !”
The dropping of some grave and weighty word, accidentally, in the presence of vain, carnal persons—the death of a husband, wife, or child--a fit of sickness, with a thousand other such like occasions-have been thus improved by Providence to the conversion of souls.
Lage for the Afflicted,
TRIAL AND TRIUMPH. I living in sin. Then I was happy enough,
if it may be called happiness." True, con“But he knoweth the way that I take; when
science sometimes accused, and looked he hath tried me, I shall come furth as gold.” very dreadful, but such moments were Job xxiii. 10.
few and far between, and as a rule I
enjoyed sin, and was only sorry that I JOB's trial was the hiding of the could not go further into its depths than Lord's face. One thinks that the loss was in my power. I conclude, therefore, of his property, the affliction of his body, that the ungodly know nothing about the foolish talk of his wife, the false ac- such matters as are above stated. Take cusations of his three friends, and the then, dear tempted one, these thy spiritual fierce temptations of the enemy, were all conflicts and soul troubles, as so many nothing compared to the fact that the evidences of spiritual life in the heart, Lord had withdrawn. There is bitter and be assured of final triumph. If you ness in the cry, “Oh that I knew where look over the experience of God's people, I might find him !” and there is deep as recorded in the word, you will find mental conflict, yes, soul agony con- in that word, as in a glass, your own tained in other of his words, such as image. these, “I go forward, but he is not there; But do you not even triumph now? and backward, but I cannot perceive him; Are you not ready to sing, “ Though he on the left hand, where he doth work, slay me, yet will I trust in him; and but I cannot behold him : he hideth him again, “ He knoweth the way that I self on the right hand, that I cannot see take, &c. Yes, if Job could not see him.” If Satan is at the believer's right the Lord, the Lord could see him. He hand to resist him (Zec. iii. 2) it is at had put him into the furnace, and though such a time. “Ah !” saith he to the the fire was hot, faith did not die. "I poor soul, “Where is the Lord thy God ? shall come forth as gold," and the gold is It is for thy sin thou art forsaken, and he all the better for the severe testing. The will no more return to comfort thee." fire does not make the precious metal, There is no access in prayer,—the mind but it separates it from the dross. Trials does not only wander, but infidel thoughts | do no not create grace in our heart ; no, intrude, evil desires arise, and we have to all the afflictions in the world can never cry unto God to forgive our attempt to make the sinner into a saint. That is worship him. There is some relief so the work of the eternal Spirit. But long as we can look back to some former when the Holy Ghost has planted grace seasons, and like good Job say (xxix. 3) in the soul, then trials are the means of “ His candle shined upon my head, by discovering it. If Job had not been a his light I walked through darkness." good man, he would have, at the advice But the arch-foe suggests that all that of his wife, cursed God, as Satan said he was a mere delusion. Says he, “ It was would ; that old accuser of the brethren a false light; God is faithful, and if he told the Lord to touch his servant, and had ever been so gracious to you, he he would curse him to his face, and he would never have left you," and so on. had an agent ready to bid him do so. I, for one, have suffered all these things But faith triumphed. With such exin no small degree. But I never had anıples before you,“think it not strange any thing of the kind to endure when concerning the fiery trial, as though some strange thing had happened unto you,” | Most High ; but had he not been but rather be surprised if you are not put there the bush would have been coninto the furnace. “He knoweth the sumed. He walked with the three Heway that you take." How does he know brews in the furnace, and hence they came ít ? Not merely by his infinite know out unsinged, but the cords that bound ledge of all things, but by experience. them were burned. Be of good cheer ; Since Job wrote, the Lord Jesus is come every day brings thee nearer the time in the flesh. He was “a man of sorrows;" when thy captivity shall be turned, and in all our afflictions he was afflicted ; deliverance will be all the more sweet therefore he knows what sore temptations through having been so long delayed. mean. He manages them all-the re
“The bud may have a bitter taste, finer keeps his eye on the fire. He “dwelt
But sweet will be the flower.” in the bush.” Strange dwelling for the
GOD REPENTING. | easily have entrance. “I will go up to
the land of unwalled villages ; I will go REPENTANCE sometimes in Scripture
to them that are at rest, and that dwell is attributed to God, and then it is
safely, all of them dwelling without spoken after the manner of men ; and it
walls, and have neither bars nor gates.” must warily be understood, so as God
What God saith here, that Satan saith may not be wronged in men's apprehen
of idle persons,—they are unwalled sions thereby. In men's repentance
villages, they have neither bars nor gates, there is grief, change,-something falls
no defensive nor offensive weapons; and out they did not foresee : David repents
therefore the devil doth boldly invade, of murdering Uriah, defiling Bathsheba,
and easily conquer them with his temptabecause that fell out in it which he did
tions. Paul knew this, and therefore not foresee,—as the blaspheming God's
counselled the Ephesians to make proname, and the sword it brought upon his
vision against Satan : “Put on the whole house ; hereupon be changed his mind
armour of God, that ye may be able to was affected with grief. These things are
stand against the wiles of the devil.” not in God; he foresees all events, he
An idle man either hath no armour, or grieves not, he changes not : therefore,
| if he hath, will not take the pains to put in this sense, he cannot be said to
to | it on. A man out of employment, and “repent." Theodaret speaks right when idle.
when | idle, is like an empty vessel, any one he saith, “Repentance in God is a change that comes to it may put in what he will: in his dispensations : if God had not
so Satan pours into idle persons what destroyed Jerusalem, he should have
| liquour he pleases. Standing waters been said to 'repent." His repentance
| corrupt soonest, and more mud, filth, is alteration of things and actions, no
and vermin are to be found in them change of his purpose and will. In
than in running waters. human repentance there is a change of
Among the Sodomites was abundance the will ; in Divine repentance there is the willing of a change, and that in the fight and war against the soul, and what
of idleness, and abundance of lusts, which thing, not in the thing, not in the will,
the will, madness is it for a man to feed his or counsel of God, which is unchange
enemies that seek his life.-Ibid. able. -Greenhill.
THE DANGER OF RICHES. IDLENESS.
PLENTY is the parent of sin, yea, IDLENESS exposes a man to a variety many sins. When Israel grew rich, had of temptations—lays him open to Satan. plenty of all things about her, then she A man unemployed is like a city without became like a fatted ox, that kicks at walls and gates, whither any enemy may | the owner, and cares for none. “Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine hearts, &c. Oneness of heart is a great offering ? Solomon, when he abounded blessing, it is the fruit of the covenant most in God's blessings, then he loved of grace. It makes the communing one strange women, multiplied wives and with another delightful and acceptable. concubines, and fell to idolatry. Plenty “ Behold how good and how pleasant it is dangerous, yet all men labour to be is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" rich, and have much about them. Men's It is an honour to the Lord Christ that tables and estates prove snares. The Christians do agree. They are members bag caught Judas; and many in pros- of his body, and it is a disparagement perity have fallen, who stood in the days to the Head to have the members fall of adversity.-Ibid.
out,-rend and tear one another; this | makes strangers speak and think evil of
the way of Christ ; hereby he is disONENESS OF HEART.
honoured ; but when there is one heart “ I will give them one heart.” Men's | among his disciples, when they love one hearts of themselves are divided, multi- another and are peaceable, it is the glory plied, not one. Phisically, men have but of Christ. “By this shall all men know one heart; morally, they have many, ac- that ye are my disciples, if ye love one cording to the number of their lusts,- another.”—Ibid. proud hearts, froward hearts, unclean
THE COMMUNINGS OF CHRIST AND
COME with me, espoused one,
This a fairer robe shall be,
+ Amana signifies integrity.
Shenir means, Light of the Ammonites. || Hermon signifies, Breastplate of Sidonians. 9 Psa. xly. 1), 11.
* Lebanon signifies incense.