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was seldom seen, that any would take Christ by profession, who would not also take him by faith and adherence: few there were, that would take up religion, even upon this condition, to lay down their lives for Christ; who yet, through their own profaneness or hypocrisy, were to receive no benefit from the death of Christ : so that, to persuade men then to be Christians in profession, was the same with persuading them to be Christians in reality. But now, when the name of Christ is so much courted, when the denying of Christ would be repaid with the same punishment that formerly the owning of Christ underwent, you need not so much persuasion to take upon you the outward profession of Christianity: for you are not only almost, but altogether Christians, in the external garb; but our persuasion to you must be, that, as you own Christ in an outward profession of him, so you would cleave to him by a true faith in him and obedience to him.
We are not, then, to speak to Pagans, to convert them to a new religion; but, if I may so say, we are to speak to Christian Infidels, to convert them to a new life and conversation. Nor yet, among these, doth my subject lead me to the profane and looser sort; whose being called Christians doth not more honour them, than they disgrace and reproach that holy name: but to those, who are more elevated and more refined; who
far in Christianity, so as to be near the kingdom of God; in a word, such as are almost Christian; and yet are strangers to Christ, and remain in their sinful state and unregenerate condition.
In the prosecution of this point, I shall inquire into these following particulars, in this method: What progress men may make towards Christianity, and
yet fall short of it. Whence they are enabled to proceed so far; and what it
is, that carries them out to all their attainments. What it is, that hinders them from proceeding further;
and, when they are almost Christians, what keeps
them from being such altogether. To shew you the folly and misery of those, who proceed
thus far only, as to be almost. Christians, and no farther.
I. Let us see WHAT PROGRESS A NATURAL MAN MAY MAKE TOWARDS GRACE AND CHRISTIANITY, AND YET REMAIN IN A SINFUL STATE.
i. Before I can come, in particular, to determine this, I must PREMISE these Three particulars.
1. That when we inquire what progress an unregenerate man may make towards grace, this supposes, that there is a tendency in what such a man doth or may do, towards the obtaining of grace : or how else can he make any progress towards it, if that, which he doth, hath no tendency to it?
Let us, therefore, enquire what kind of tendency this is.
There may be a Twofold tendency supposed in the actions of an unregenerate man, towards the acquisition of grace,
Subjective, (1) Actions may be said to have an Effective Tendency, when they do, by their own efficiency and causality, produce that, which they tend to.
And, in this sense, it must be denied that the actions of an unregenerate man have any tendency towards grace: be their progress what it will, thereby he cannot efficiently produce or cause grace in himself; and, therefore, grace is called the new creature, as being the effect only of creating power, which is the sole prerogative of God; and it is as utterly impossible, for a man to create grace in the soul, as to create the soul itself.
Take but this one demonstration to evince it. If an unregenerate man, by his own power and efficiency, can produce grace in himself, then one of these two gross absurdities must needs follow, either,
That there are still left holy habits and principles in the
will, which were never lost by the fall of man: or, That a man may make himself truly holy, by a will that
is totally corrupt and sinful. But either of these is very gross.
 There are no holy nor divine habits left in the will of a carnal man, whereby he should be able to regenerate and convert himself.
For what holy habit can there be in the will of one, that is wholly corrupted ? If any such be supposed, it may also be , supposed that it is true grace : and, to affirm that a man, in a state of nature, hath true grace inherent in him, whereby he is able to convert and regenerate himself, is double nonsense and a flat contradiction; for it is to affirm, that he hath grace before he hath it.
 A will, totally corrupted, cannot make a holy man, cannot produce grace, nor make a man holy.
Grace is beyond and above its sphere. The motions of the will in its fallen estate, what through defect of a right principle from whence they flow and a right end to which they tend, are all evil and sinful: and it is very strange to affirm, that a gracious habit may be wrought in us by sinful actions. And, besides, the will of man, by the fall, is a fleshly will; but, in regeneration, it is made spiritual: now it were a strange kind of. production, if fleshly could beget spiritual ; nor would it any longer hold true, that our Saviour saith in John iii. 6. That, which is born of the flesh, is flesh. So that I think it is very evident, that all that a man can do by the power of nature cannot tend efficiently to produce grace in him.
(2) There is a Subjective Tendency towards grace.
And this lies in those moral preparations, and those dispositions of the heart, which fit it for the receiving of grace, though it be wrought there only by the Holy Ghost. And thus we affirm, that, while men are in an unregenerate state, they may have and do somewhat that hath a tendency in it to grace: that is, one unregenerate man may have more of these previous dispositions, and of these preparations for the receiving of grace, than another hath : for, though it be not in itself singly necessary that such previous dispositions should be wrought in the soul before the implantation of divine grace; since such a subject, as the soul is in respect of grace, doth not, as the school. men determine, require its previous dispositions for the production of its form; yet this is the usual common way of the Spirit's work, first to prepare the heart by some common works of conviction, legal terrors and remorse of conscience, before it works any saving and real work of grace in it. And, therefore, when any unregenerate man hath much of these previous preparations, we say that he goes very far towards grace, and he may be said to be almost a Christian. And this is all that tendency, that an unregenerate man hath, or can possibly do towards it : viz. a preparatory, and not an effective operative tendency unto saving grace and regeneration.
2. Another thing premised is this: That, what through wilful sloth and wretched negligence, no unregenerate man doth make so great a progress towards grace as he is able and can possibly do.
None go so far as they can do, in those previous preparations and dispositions towards it. When they find difficulty in opposing temptation, in crucifying their lusts, in performing duties, in denying their sinful delights and pleasures, having noth
ng supernatural within them to naturalize and facilitate these things and carry them on resolutely through all, they never keep up to the utnost of that power which they have: but, as they yield to those temptations that they might resist, and com, mit those sins that they might reject, and neglect those duties which for matter and substance of them they might perform; so, none of them go so far as they have a natural power to do. No man goes so far in the work of grace as he might, if he wouid improve that power which he hath by nature.
3. Did they make as great a progress towards grace as they enight, they would not fall so far short of grace as they do.
I say, if wicked unregenerate men did but as much as they are able by the power of nature to do, without the special assistance of the Holy Ghost, they would not fall so far short of grace as they do. I would not enter into that dispute, whether God be engaged to bestow grace upon the right improvement of their natural power; yet, it is certain, and agreed on by all, that he doth certainly do so. God usually bestows true and saving grace upon those, who do rightly and to their utmost improve their natural power and ability for the acquiring of it. If God be not obliged, by promise, to assist them; yet, through his goodness and mercy, he is not wont to desert them. Let them but labour to improve their natural ability to the utmost strain and pitch, that their own capacity can elevate, God will, according to his usual method and wonted goodness, conie in by supernatural grace; and enable them to do that, which by nature they are not able to do: for no instance can be given to
So, then, we may conclude, that wicked men never go so far as they can; and did they, yet they could not efficiently work grace in themselves : but, nevertheless, they would be disposed and prepared for the receipt of grace; which God, upon such preparations, would undoubtedly bestow upon them. For, although he be not obliged to give it them; yet, usually, he is wont to work it in them merely through his own natural goodness, free grace and mercy to them, pitying the weakness of their lapsed and fallen nature.
ii. I shall proceed to the answer of the first question, IN THE
Unregenerate men may make a great progress, and may go very far towards grace, and yet fall short of it: that, in general, is to be almost a Christian. This I laid down in the method propounded to you. Although I say not that they go so far as they can by the power of nature, and yet fall short of grace; for that can never be instanced in any: yet the sad and wretched apostacy of those, who have been eminent professors, shining yea and glaring lights, exceeding and also despising common attainments of others, hath too evidently confirmed it to us, that men may go very far towards grace, and yet fall short of it. See what Christ saith, Mark. xii. 34. of that young man, that forward young man, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God: that is, thou art not far from grace; for so the kingdom of God is oftentimes taken in Scripture for the kingdom of grace: so that we may say of such men, they were not far from the kingdom of God, not far from grace, not far from heaven ; climbing up almost thither, within view and ken of it, having one foot, as it were, upon the threshold of the heavenly gate ; and, yet, even these tumble headlong, and never rest until they have plunged themselves to the bottom of hell. It is with such men, as it is with the vapours, that are drawn up into the air: they shine with the same light, with the same apparent magnitude as the fixed stars themselves do; and we may think them moving in the very same sphere with them: but, when we see them dart down to the earth, and spill all that light and glory which they glistered with by the way, and fall into a filthy jelly, a thicker and more Loathsome substance than when they were first exhaled, we then conclude that all that elevation of those false and blazing lights was vastly short of that heaven, in which they seemed sometime to be fixed. So is it with many unregenerate men: you cannot tell with what they are fraught, till you see them shipwrecked : then it is a sign, that, though they were never right and true treasure, yet they are something very like it: when we see them tumbling down off a glorioás profession through fatal precipices of great, gross, and desperate sins, we may sadly conclude that that man was not far from the kingdom of God, though he was never yet there. Indeed, every unregenerate man, when he winds
himself to the highest pitch and strain, may be said to be far from the kingdom of God, in respect of bis total deprivation of grace: though his actions be never so fair and specious, yet they are very far from being gracious; as far as darkness is from light.