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2dly. From these observations it is clear, that no evidence will persuade a sinful heart.
The Devils, we are told, believe, and tremble. The Rich man, in the parable, saw with absolute certainty, and saw in his own experience too, that the impenitent are miserable beyond the grave. Yet the devils do not repent. The Rich man did not repent. He hoped, that his brethren would repent, if Lazarus should be permitted to testify to them the sufferings which he endured. But he exhibits not a single hope of his own repentance, although he was now experiencing the very woes concerning which the testimony of Lazarus was to be given.
In the same manner multitudes of mankind in Christian countries, and among them not a small number in this house, who acknowledge the Scriptures to be the word of God, and believe, without a doubt, that all the solemn things, which they contain, are true, are yet not persuaded.
There is no instance, recorded in the history of man, in which the heart has yielded itself to the mere influence of truth; even of the truth of God; and become converted, merely because it was convinced. Sin in its very nature appears to be immoveable by any effort of the sinner. If I am asked, whether he is not possessed of physical power to effect this removal ; I answer,
yes: but he will never exert it in such a manner, as to accomplish the end.” Man, in my view, has all the physical power, before, that he has at, or after, his regeneration. The only change, wrought in him at that time, is in his disposition ; and, to accomplish this change, something, beside the mere power of truth and evidence, is indispensable. The grace of God, alone, the power of the divine Spirit, is the only cause, from which this wonderful effect can spring; the only balm for the leprosy of the heart.
You may, perhaps, ask what, then, is the use of divine Truth? What is its efficacy? What is the value of the means of grace? And why do I urge you so earnestly to use them; and to use them with all diligence, and anxiety; for the purpose of attaining salvation? To these reasonable questions my answer is ready.
This is the way, in which God has thought proper to communicate this blessing; and unquestionably the way, which is most wise and proper in itself. He could easily accomplish the whole work of your regeneration without even a remote reference to any means whatever. But he has determined otherwise : and such is the importance of the Scriptures to this mighty concern, that they are declared, expressly, to be able to make us wise unto salvation. As he has ordered his providence ; they are absolutely necessary to teach you his character and pleasure ; your own ruin, and recovery ; the dangers to which you are exposed, and the way to escape them; the blessings which you may acquire, and the means by which they may be obtained. Scarcely less necessary are they to bring you to that soberness of mind, which is indispensable to thinking usefully on any subjects ; especially on those, which are involved in Religion ; and to that solemn concern for your immortal interests, without which you will not even wish to be saved. The means of grace universally form, when employed in earnest, a preparation of the man, both with respect to the understanding and the affections, for the proper commencement of the agency of the Holy Spirit in renewing his heart. This is not a preparation of merit but of fitness. It involves no desert of this blessing. It infers no obligation on God to communicate it. But it is the way, which God in his wisdom and mercy has been pleased to select ; and which therefore he has been pleased to bless. It would be easy to shew, that it is both wise and good : but this the time will not permit; and on the present occasion it is unnecessary.
Agreeably to these observations, all persons, who are finally regenerated, date the commencement of seriousness in their minds, of their conviction of sin, and therefore, of the conversion which followed it; from something, which is contained in the Scriptures : some truth; some precept; some ordinance ; some threatening ; some invitation; some promise. Ask as many, as you please ; and you will find, that one dates the commencement of this work in his soul from some passage of Scripture ; another, from an expression in a prayer, or a psalm ; and
another, from an affecting sermon. One finds it in religious conversation ; another, in religious example. One began to be af fected by his own sickness, or his recovery ; another, by his exposure to an alarming danger, or his merciful deliverance; and another still, by the death of a friend, or some other solemn dispensation of Providence. You will never hear this great event spoken of, as commencing without something, by which it was begun: and that something is always divine truth, either brought to the mind simple and alone, or accompanied with circumstances, by which it was powerfully impressed. And let it be remembered that all the things, which I have here mentioned, are only Scriptural truth, presented in various forms, or accompanied by different means of impressing it powerfully on the heart.
But, were we unable to explain this subject at all, it would be sufficient to recur to the mere state of facts, to recommend it in the strongest manner to the attention of mankind. It is certainly enough for us, that all, who are saved, are saved in this manner.
Flatter not yourselves, then, that your hearts will ever be changed by the mere force of evidence; nor that you can ever be renewed, but by the grace of God, and the agency of his Spirit ; nor that you have a rational hope of salvation, without an earnest, anxious, use of the means of grace ; nor that in such an use of these means you can merit salvation; nor that God is under any obligation to save you ; nor that you are in any sense safe, until you shall have been created anew by the power of the divine Spirit. Leave these dreams to those, who are willing to spend life in dreaming. But do you in the mean time rejoice, that there is a divine Spirit to renew you; and that there are means, by which multitudes have been conducted to this renovation, Lay hold on them with all your hearts: and, while you follow the glorious company, who in the use of them have been divinely blessed, may you find the same blessing in this world, and the innumerable and immortal, blessings which flow from it in the world to come!
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding :
And lo, it was all grown over with thorns! and nettles had covered the face thereof: and the stone-wall thereof was broken down.
Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it; and received instruction.
No writer in the Scriptures has given us so many lessons on the subject of sloth, as Solomon ; and on no subject has he exhibited more pungent phraseology, or striking imagery. There is a pithiness, a vigour of thought, and a strength of expression, in the compositions of this great man, which are singular; and which are all exhibited in the most vivid manner in his observations concerning sloth. This fact is a forcible proof of his superiour wisdom; and might be fairly expected from the distinguished degree, in which he possessed this attribute.
The text is a beautiful specimen of this nature. “I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man, void of understanding: And lo, it was all grown over with thorns ! and nettles covered the face thereof: and the stone-wall thereof was broken down."
Fields and vineyards, where vineyards exist, have ever been the chief objects of human cultivation. Both are destined not only to supply important necessaries of life, but to furnish man with those supplies of food, and drink, and with many of those objects of mental taste, which have always been regarded by mankind as eminently delightful. In truth, these, together with gardens,
have been in all ages primary objects of secular attention to the great body of the human race, in every country where the soil and climate would admit an employment of this nature. A garden was assigned to our first parents, as the place of their abode in a state of innocence. Adam was the first husbandman; and Eden was the first scene of agriculture. When, therefore, fields and vineyards are neglected by the proprietor ; we may easily believe, that all other objects of his industry will be forgotten: for here very obviously lies his chief secular interest; and here might plainly and easily be found his first pleasure.
But the field and the vineyard were not merely neglected. They were forgotten; and had long been forgotten. They were all grown over with thorns; and nettles had covered their surface: the stone-wall with which the vineyard had been formerly enclosed by a more industrious hand, was also broken down: probably, because the proprietor was too lazy to put it up himself, or even to employ others for this purpose. This scene struck the
of the wisest of men with very great force; as he has taught us by the emphatical language in which he has expressed his feelings. “ Then I saw, and considered it well. I looked upon it; and received instruction." In this state of deep contemplation, this solemn pondering on the miserable case before him, the emotions of Solomon were excited to such a pitch, that, turning his thoughts to the wretched proprietor, he entered, in imagination, the house where the man lived; and there beheld him stretched upon his bed, at that very time of day, when himself was examining so attentively the deplorable consequences of his sloth. Here, as he fancied, he heard the sottish being exclaim, “Yet a little sleep; a little slumber; a little folding of the hands to sleep." Roused by this effusion; the most striking, which was ever uttered by a mind torpid with indolence; Solomon exclaimed by way of response, “ So shall thy poverty come, as one that travelleth ; and thy want, as an armed man." From this humiliating view of the conduct and consequences of sloth we cannot fail to learn some useful lessons, unless the fault should be our own. Among these the following observations well merit the attention of this assembly.