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nothing you are able to do, can give you a claim to the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit. If any thing you can do can give you a claim to the renewing and sanctifying influences of the divine grace,
claim must be either from merit or promise. Not of merit; when you cannot of yourself so much as leave off sinning, and thereby running further into debt to the justice of God; and this, even in and by the best of your duties. Your highest attainments, therefore, can merit nothing but the divine displea
Not of promise ; for where, I beseech you, has God promised to reward your insincerity with his saving mercy? And how vain are all pretences to serve God sincerely, where there is not one grain of true holiness in the heart ! Whatever moral honesty men in a state of nature may boast of, it is all but spiritual hypocrisy in the sight of a heartsearching God; and can bring none under the promise which is made to faith unfeigned, the only simplicity and godly sincerity in the account of the Gospel.
But I return to consider your objection more distinctly. “ The Scriptures,” you tell me,“ promise, that he who seeks shall find.” But, Sir, do not the Scriptures also inform us, that “ many shall seek to enter in at the strait gate, and shall not be able:"! that some “ ask, and receive not, because they ask amiss :" and that he who does " not ask in faith, nothing wavering, must not think he shall receive any thing of the Lord ?” There is indeed a promise to him who seeks in faith and sincerity: but what claim can he have to that promise, who has neither true faith nor sincerity? Will mocking God, and flattering him with your lips, while your heart is estranged from him, entitle you to the promise ?
But you say,
66 All our divines tell us, that the most sinful and unworthy may have access to God through Christ, and this is the purport of all my reasoning with you." True, by faith in Christ they may: but “ God is a consuming fire” to unbelievers. “ He that believeth not, is condemned already.” What claim, therefore, can they have to the favour of God upon Christ's account, who have never received him by faith; and consequently have no interest in him, nor in any of his saving benefits ? Can they claim the benefits of the covenant of grace, who are themselves under the covenant of works, which curses them for their " not continuing in all things written in the book of the law to do them ?” I entreat you, Sir, to consider this case; it is of vast importance to you. If you have not good evidence of an interest in Christ, how can you pretend to the privileges purchased with his precious blood ? How can you pretend to access to God through him, and a claim to the blessed influences of his Holy Spirit ? How can unbelievers have a claim to the favour of God by Christ, when he himself assures us that of the wrath of God abideth on them ?”
But “ will not God have compassion on his creatures, when they do what they can to serve him ?” What answer would a prince make to a condemned rebel in his shackles and dungeon, that should make this plea for pardon? Would the criminal's doing what he can to serve his prince (which in his present state is nothing at all to any good purpose) atone for his past rebellion ? Or would this qualify him for his prince's favour, while he yet retains the same enmity in his heart against him, and will not so
much as submit to his sovereign good pleasure and mere mercy? The application is easy. And it belongs to you, Sir, to consider seriously, whether a sipner, who is dead in trespasses and sins, who is in a state of rebellion against God, and therefore under the condemning sentence of the law, can any more atone for his sins, or make a reasonable plea for grace and pardon, than the traitor aforesaid ? But were your reasoning ever so just, it would afford
you no grounds of comfort.
For there never was, nor ever shall be, any man, that can fairly make this plea in his own favour; and truly say, he has done all he can, in the mortifying his lusts, and in his endeavour to serve God. There will, after all his attempts, remain enough neglected, even of the external part of his duty, that was most in his own power, to condemn both his person and his services.
You complain, that “ the arguments in the book I sent you do not give you satisfaction.” Well, I have here added some further evidence to what was there offered; and would now call upon you to consider, whether all these things put together do not make it evident, that you lie at mercy, and convince you of those Scripture truths, that “it is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but in God that showeth mercy.” God giveth his saving grace, only “ because it hath so seemed good in his sight.” Consider, whether you can atone for past sins by present duties; by duties that are so polluted by the principle from which they flow; and which have so much carnality, selfishness, hypocrisy, and sinful defects cleaving to them, that, if the iniquity of your most holy things be imputed, it must greatly increase
the moral distance between God and you. Consider, whether, while you are under the law, or covenant of works, you are capable, not only to fulfil all its preceptive demands, and so not further expose yourself to its curses; but also to do something towards making satisfaction to God's justice for what you have already done amiss, and to merit his favour. Or consider, whether you have any claim to God's acceptance of your person upon Christ's account, without an interest in him, and whilst condemned already by his own mouth, and under the wrath of God for your unbelief. Consider, whether you can have any promise of acceptance to plead, while you remain under the curse both of the law and Gospel. Consider, whether an omniscient and holy God can be either deluded or gratified with mere external shows of religion, when he knows you have a heart in you that is far from him. Consider, whether you can ever make the case better, by all vours to change your own heart, and to create yourself anew in Christ Jesus, any more than you can produce a new world. Consider, whether you dare venture your eternity upon this issue, that you sincerely do what you can to serve God; and whether there be not such sinful defects cleaving to your best performances, as may justly condemn both you and them. Consider again, whether, if you should do all you can in the service of God, you would do any thing that would either fully come up to the terms of the covenant of grace, or bear the least proportion to that salvation which the Gospel requires. Consider once more, whether the glorious God has not an absolute right to dispose of his own
favours, just how, when, and where he pleases; and whether he has not assured us, that he will bestow his everlasting mercy upon none but those who are really conformable to the terms of the covenant of grace.
Now, Sir, if you, while unregenerate, can neither make atonement for your past sin and guilt, nor come up to the demands of the law of nature; if you can neither please God by your sinful performances, nor impose upon him by your hypocritical shows; if you run further in debt by the sin of your duties, instead of paying any thing of the old score; if
you have no claim to acceptance on Christ's account, without a special interest in him; nor any claim to the benefits of the covenant of grace, till you actually comply with the terms of it; if both law and Gospel condemn you in your present state, and nothing but Omnipotence can change your heart, and make your state better; if God be a sovereign donor of his own favours, (and you can have no promise to plead, while you remain under the curse and wrath of God, and a stranger to the covenants of promise); if even you yourself must allow all these things to be undoubted truths, it must then be true, even to demonstration, that (while in such a state) you are capable of no qualifying condition of the divine favour; and had need, therefore, to feel that you lie at mercy.
To conclude this head—if God himself may be believed on in the
66 he will have mercy upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." It is 6 not for our sakes that he bestows grace upon us, but for his holy name's sake.”