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we see or hear that any people complain of preaching which does not bring these doctrines into view; or do they ever appear to be in anxiety and distress about the concerns of their souls, or their spiritual and eternal state? Do they not rather ascribe all such anxiety and distress to the workings of a deluded imagination? But what says experience in this case? I mean the experience of those who are inwardly displeased with these peculiar, pinching doctrines. Do they not feel a load thrown off, and their minds set at loose and ease, when they hear these doctrines denied, discarded and reprobated? This is proof sufficient that the reason why they are so disagreeable to the hearts of many, is, that they discover and fasten the bands and cords which bind them to God.
4. If sinners endeavor to free themselves from their obligations to God, then they always endeavor to stifle convictions. Some unhappy occurrence, or some sudden bereavement, or some affecting discourse about the joys of heaven and the miseries of the damned, may awaken and alarm sinners without producing any genuine convictions. But a sense of danger is very different from a sense of guilt, or desert of punishment, in which real conviction of sin consists. Sinners are never convinced that they deserve God's wrath and curse both in this life and in that which is to come, until they not only feel their obligations to God, but the propriety and justice of the bands and cords by which he has bound them to himself. When they realize that he had a right to make them dependent, to lay them under moral obligation, and to bind them by the infinite authority of his law to love himn supremely, upon pain of endless destruction; then they feel their guilt for violating such sacred obligations to their Creator and Lawgiver, and are convinced that they deserve to die, for their disaffection and rebellion against such a great and glorious being as God now appears to be. But while they are merely awakened and alarmed by the apprehension of danger, they have no such convictions of sin and guilt, and therefore rather pity than condemn themselves. And they often take comfort under their awakenings, and try to cherish and continue them, with a hope that they will do them good, and finally prove the means of their conversion and salvation. Though they are painful to endure, yet they have such strong and ardent desires to be saved and to escape eternal destruction, that they would be willing to endure them as long as they live, if this might only be the consequence. Accordingly, instead of stifling, they mean to cherish their awakenings, and often say that they are afraid they shall lose their sense of danger and become stupid. But they do not feel so reconciled to convictions. These they dread and endeavor to stifle. For these are the bands and cords that bind them, which they desire and endeavor, with all their might, to break and cast from them. Convictions weaken their strength and hopes, and fasten their cords, and throw them into the sovereign hands of God, from which they feel they cannot escape. They could bear their infirmities or fears, but a wounded spirit they cannot bear. While they feel themselves at liberty to murmur and complain, and to pity themselves as hardly dealt with, they find self support. But when they feel self condemned, as well as legally condemned, and that the same bands and cords which bind them to duty, equally bind them to future and eternal punishment, they realize that there is no alternative but cordially to approve their just condemnation, or lie under the weight of it for ever. But under such clear convictions of guilt, their carnal mind, which is enmity against God, will not suffer them to submit. They had rather die than do it. Then is the time, if ever, for God to change their hearts and save their souls, or still reserve them to the judgment and condemnation of the last day.
5. If sinners are under such natural, moral and legal obligations to God as have been mentioned, then he can awaken and convince them at any time he pleases. Though they feel at ease and liberty, and imagine they can walk in the ways of their heart and in the sight of their eyes as long as they please, without any restraint, yet they are actually bound by bands and cords that ihey cannot break. And it is only for him to open their eyes to see, and their consciences to feel, the bands and cords by which they are bound, in order to throw them into the deepest anxiety and distress. And this he can do when they are sick, or when they are well; when they are in adversity, or in prosperity; when they are in the house of God, or when they are absent; when they are busy, or when they are idle. They are never out of his sight, nor out of his reach. He always has access to their minds, and can direct the arrows of conviction to their consciences, at any time and in any place he pleases. Though they put far away the evil day, and resolve to shut their eyes and their ears against divine truth, and harden their hearts and consciences against all means of conviction, yet God can open their eyes and ears, and break their resolu
, tions, and fill their hearts and consciences with guilt and re
He can do this, though they have made a covenant with death, and with hell are at agreement. He can separate their hearts and hands, however linked together, and take one and leave another. This he has done, and is continually doing. He can break their bands and fasten his own, which they cannot break. They have no ground to rejoice and exult in their
power to resist convictions and maintain their peace and security; for they have no such power, only when God lets them alone. And they know not how long he will let them alone. It seems to be high time for him to rise in his awful majesty, and make them see and feel that they are in his hand as the clay is in the hand of the potter, and that he can crush them as a potter's vessel.
6. Since sinners endeavor to free themselves from all their obligations to God, we may see why they are so extremely averse from prayer. There is no duty they are so unwilling to perform. They are unwilling to be exhorted to this duty, and much more unwilling to perform it. The reason is, they cannot pray without acknowledging their obligations to God, which they hate and wish to break. The child feels this, and neglects to pray. The youth feels this, and neglects to pray. Those that are pursuing vanities feel this, and neglect to pray. The sober moral sinner feels this, and neglects to pray. All sinners wish to forget or break their obligations to God; and cannot bear to strengthen them by going to him in secret and acknowledging them. Letany sinner who has cast off fear and restrained prayer go to God in prayer this evening, and he will feel that he has bound himself to pray to-morrow and from day to day, as long as he lives. But he hates his obligations to God, and will not begin to pray. Or if he does begin, he will neglect it as soon as his sense of his obligations to God is gone. This is true of every careless, stupid or merely awakened sinner. But the sinner under genuine convictions has different feelings in respect to prayer. He is afraid to pray, because he feels he cannot sincerely acknowledge the justice of these bands and cords which he wishes with all his heart to break, and intends to break, if possible, as long as he exists. Many a convinced sinner has thus become speechless, and found he could say nothing like prayer, which was consistent with his total enmity to God. Parents have no reason to wonder that they cannot persuade their children to pray; and ministers have no reason to wonder that they cannot persuade sinners to begin to pray; or after they have lost their awakenings and convictions, they cannot persuade them to begin to pray again. When any person prays, he acknowledges his obligations to God, and pledges himself to do his whole duty. This the sinner is not willing to do, and therefore neglects to pray. This the person who has lost his convictions is not willing to do, and therefore neg. lects to pray. And this the false or declining professor is not willing to do. It is the fear of men's acknowledging and confirming their obligations to God, that prevents their begin. ning to pray, and disposes them to neglect it after they have once begun. Every prayerless person in this house knows whether this be true or not, and whether he is one who desires and endeavors to break all the bands and cords by which he is bound to God. Every sinner either neglects to pray, or prays amiss, to his own self condemnation and confusion. In what a wretched and guilty condition are all sinners!
7. If all sinners are under natural, moral and legal obligations to God, then they are all, without exception, bound to be religious, or to fulfil their obligations to their Maker, who has made thern rational, immortal and accountable creatures. These divine obligations lie with all their weight upon chil. dren, upon youth, upon all men, whether rich or poor, high or low, learned or unlearned. No age, no condition, no secular concerns, can dissolve their obligations. But how many sinners practically deny their obligation to be religious, and expect that ihey shall generally be allowed this privilege without any censure or disapprobation from any but a few bigoted religionists, or over-orthodox preachers! How many would be ashamed to be found reading the Bible seriously, or calling upon God devoutly, or attending public worship statedly! Do not such by their speaking, reasoning and acting, plainly show that they endeavor to break every religious obligation, and desire to live without God in the world ? Has God then misrepresented their character and conduct in his word ? If not, they are his perfect enemies, and deserve to be treated as his enemies for ever. This he will sooner or later make them see and feel.
Finally: If sinners are bound to God by bands and cords which they cannot break nor cast away, then it is their immediate and imperious duty to cease from contending with their Maker; and to become cordially reconciled to the bands and cords by which he has bound them to himself. David did this. He said to God sincerely, “ O how love I thy law!"
” Paul felt and expressed the same spirit. “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” If you become reconciled to your obligations to God, they will prove a source of perpetual blessedness. But if you persist in hating and opposing them, they will prove a source of self condemnation and misery for ever. I now ask what you intend to do? And God may treat you according to your present resolution. But are you willing he should ?
If you refuse to submit to God, and to the bands and cords by which you are bound to him, as surely as you live and as God lives, he will be bound by his own goodness to punish you forever and ever. “ And what wilt thou say, when he shall punish thee?"
SERMON X X X.
TENDENCY OF THE GOSPEL TO ENLARGE THE HEART.
OUR heart is enlarged. – - 2 CORINTHIANS, vi. 11.
The apostle preached the gospel with great success in Corinth, where he formed a large number of converts into a Christian church, to whom he preached a year and six months. His long residence with them laid a foundation for his very strong attachment to them. But soon after he left them, they were led into errors, animosities, and contentions, by false and corrupt teachers.
When he heard of their unhappy situation, he wrote his first epistle to them to correct their errors, and reunite them in their former peace and harmony. Though this letter produced some good effects, yet new difficulties arose, which gave occasion to his writing to them again. This second epistle breathes a very tender and affectionate spirit. In the two preceding chapters, and in the beginning of this, he speaks largely of his own views, and feelings, and sufferings, in promoting the cause of Christ, and the interests of his friends. And when he had wrought his own mind up to a high pitch of tenderness, he breaks forth in this pathetic language: “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is opened unto you, our heart is enlarged. Ye are not straitened in us, but ye are straitened in your own bowels. Now for a recompense of the same, I speak as unto my children, Be ye also enlarged.” The gospel had enlarged the heart of the apostle, and he supposed it had a tendency to enlarge the hearts of the Corinthians who had embraced it. His views and feelings were once confined to himself, and to those persons and objects which were the most nearly connected with his private, personal interests. But after he had heard and understood and loved the gospel, his heart VOL. VI.