Page images

not in the want, but in the perversion of the intellectual powers : And their recovery consists, not in the creation of new faculties, but in the holy direction of the faculties which they have. • They are, then, to be addressed as rational beings; truth is to be placed before thein ; arguments are to be proposed to them ; the terrors of the law are to be applied for their awakening ; and the invitations of the gospel are to be urged for their encouragement.

“ Come, and let us reason together,” says the Almighty to a wicked and de. generate people. “ Paul," in the presence of Felix, “ reasoned of righteousness, temperance and a future judgment.” His design in his preaching was, “ to open men's eyes, and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”

We are not from this description to infer that sin. ners, in a state of unregeneracy, are on account of their deadness excusable for continuing in that state ; for as the state itself is criminal, continuance in it is continued and increasing criminality.

Nor are we from the use of such metaphors to conclude, that sinners under the gospel can do nothing to their conversion, more than the dead to their resurrection ; and that therefore it is improper and absurd to exhort them to repentance ; for with such exhorta. tions the scripture every where abounds.

It is often asked, whether the unregenerate can do any thing of themselves, which has a tendency to their conversion ? But the answer is, They who enjoy the gospel are not left to themselves. If you suppose a man under the power of vicious inclinations, and at the same time destitute of all means of religious knowledge, and without any influence from the spirit of God, you then have the idea of a sinner properly left to himself. But this is not your case. You have the gospel in your hands; and it is daily proclaimed in your hearing. There is an agency of the divine Spirit attending it ; and you have been, and, we hope, still are

in some degree the subjects of this agency. With these advantages, there is something which you may do. Confound not your case with that of uninstructed, Heathens ; for God has made your case different from theirs. in respect of the awakening and convincing motions of the Spirit, as well as in regard of external means, God has been beforehand with you. He has granted them before you sought them. He has knock. ed at your door, before you invited him to come in. He still stretches out his hand to the disobedient and gainsaying. When the gospel is called a ministration of the Spirit, and the Spirit is said to be ministered to men in the hearing of faith-when Christ is said to stand at their door and knock, that they may hear and open to him when the Spirit is said to strive with the wicked-when God promises that he will pour out his spirit on the offspring of his people—when sinners are reproved for having always resisted the Holy Ghost; and when they who oppose the gospel, are said to do despite to the spirit of grace ; it is plainly supposed and implied that there is an operation of the Spirit, which attends the publication of the gospel, and which is commonly afforded to them who hear the word of salvation ; and that, in consequence of this, they are capable of such an attendance on the instituted means of religion, as may hopefully issue in their real conversion.

It is sometimes asked, whether any thing done by an unregenerate person can be acceptable to God? The answer depends on the meaning of the word acceptable. If hereby is intended that which intitles to a future re. ward, the answer must certainly be in the negative. But if by this is meant that which, by the gracious appointment of God, may be useful in order to obtain the renewing influences of the divine Spirit ; doubtless, in this sense, something may be done which is acceptable,

But is not every thing, done by the unregenerate, wholly sinful and abominable in the sight of God ? In answer to this inquiry, let it be observed, that the un. regenerate have the natural principles of hope and fear -these principles, in awakened sinners, are put in motion by the application of the divine word and the operations of the holy Spirit. Now those prayers for mercy, those watchings against sin, those reformations of life, and that attendance on means, to which sinners are excited by the influence of the word and Spirit of God, cannot be called wholly sinful, or perfectly abominable in his sight. God does not abominate the work of his own Spirit.

There is certainly, then, more hope of their obtain. ing salvation in the use, than in the neglect of appointed means. Hence they are called upon to “ awake and arise from the dead” —" to repent and turn to God”" to make them a new heart, and a new spirit.”

Farther : From the metaphor used in the text we are not to conclude, that all sinners are alike ; for though all are in a sense dead, yet some are under a greater death than others. The metaphor is usually in scripture applied to sinners of the most vicious character. When we speak of human nature, as totally depraved, we mean only a total destitution of real holi. ness ; not the highest possible degree of vitiosity. Native depravity may doubtless be increased by posi. tive habits. In order to denominate one a sinner, it is not necessary that he should be as bad as possible. We are not to conclude ourselves holy and regenerate merely because we cannot find every vicious disposition operating in us to the greatest imaginable degree. Though natural death does not, yet spiritual death does, admit of degrees. Evil men wax worse and worse ; add sin to sin, and treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.

But though we may not overstrain this metaphor, yet there is an undoubted propriety in the application

which the Apostle makes of it. The moral state of wicked men much resembles a state of natural death.

They may be said to be dead, in respect of their stupidity. We read of some, who are past feeling—whose conscience is scared--who have eyes which see not, and ears which hear not, and a heart which is waxed gross. This is, in a high degree, the case of some sinners, and more or less the case of all, until they are awakened by the grace of God. Look around ; how easy and secure do multitudes appear ! How unaffected with the most important concerns ! How unmoved at the most awful threatenings! How indifferent about the consequences of their sins! Their hearts are like a mortified limb, which feels no pain under the scarifying knife.

They are represented as wanting spiritual sensesthey savor the things of the world ; not the things which are of God. They, indeed, love the effects of God's goodness to them ; but they delight not in his character, as a holy, just and faithful Being. They desire heaven, under the general notion of a very happy place ; but desire not that which makes heaven a happy place, the presence of the holy God, the society of holy beings, and employment in holy services. They have not a proper relish for God's worship, ordinances and word. They may, indeed, be pleased with them in some respects. We read of a wicked people, who took delight in approaching to God, and to whom God's word was as a lovely song of one that had a pleasant voice, and could play well on an instrument. They may feel a natural pleasure in certain mechanical emotions of the passions excited by objects presented to the sight, or by sounds which strike the ear ; as the artificial tears from the image of the Virgin Mary will melt down an assembly of Catholics ; or as a concert of musical instruments will enrapture the hearers : But they relish not the word and ordinances of God, considered as means of holiness, and as designed to con

vince them of their sins, and bring them to repentance. They long not for the pure milk of divine ordinances, as the means of spiritual nutrition and increase. If the word dispensed comes home to their conscience, they are offended. They lose the music of the pleasant song, and talk against it by the walls, and in the doors of their houses.

They resemble the dead in the want of vital warmth. If they have any fervor in religion, it is about the forms and externals of it, or about some favorite sentia ments, which they find well adapted to soothe their consciences ; not about those things in which the power of religion consists. Here they are formal and indifferent.

The motions of their souls are not toward heaven, but toward earth. They mind the things of the flesh; not the things of the spirit.

As death deforms the body; so sin destroys the beauty of the soul. It darkens the reason, perverts the judgment, and disorders the affections. Thus to be carnally minded is death.

Sinners may be denominated as dead, as they are worthy of, and exposed to eternal punishment. This is in scripture often called death, because it is the separation of the soul from God and heaven, from happi. ness and hope, from all good, and unto all evil. This is a death, which awaits the impenitent. "He who believeth not is condemned already—the wrath of God abideth on him.”—There is no deliverance, but by faith in Jesus Christ. The opportunity for this deliv. erance is short and precarious. Hence the impenitent may be called dead men, in regard of their daily ex. posedness to everlasting death. I proceed to observe,

II. The Apostle describes these sinners of the Gen. tiles, as having " walked according to the course of this world.” They, like dead carcasses, swam down the stream of common custom, and were carried away with the general current of vice and corruption.

« PreviousContinue »