« PreviousContinue »
God and his ways. This removes the enmity before described, The Lord God will circumcise thine heart-to love the Lord thy God.' This circumcision consists in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh,' He crucifies the flesh, with the lusts and affections thereof. Some men are inclined to think that all the depravity of our nature consists in that of the sensitive part of the soul, or our affections. The folly of this opinion has been before exposed. Yet it is not denied that the affections are exceedingly depraved; so that by them, principally, the mind and will act according to their perverse and corrupt inclinations. But in the circumcision of the heart, these corrupt affections are crucified by the Spirit; he takes from them their enmity and depraved inclinations really, though not perfectly; and, in their stead, fills us with holy spiritual love and delight; not changing the being of our affections, but sanctifying and guiding them by the ptinciple of saving light, and uniting them to their proper objects.
From the whole, it appears that our regeneration is a work of the Spirit of God, and not any act of our own. I say, it is not so our own as by any outward helps to be educed out of the principles of our natures: and herein is the Scripture express; for mentioning this work directly with respect to its cause, it assigns it positively to God: 1 Pet. i. 3, 'God, according to his abundant merey, hath begotten us again.' James i. 18, Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.' And on the other hand, it excludes the will of man from any active interest therein : Pet. i. 23, Born again, not of corruptible seed, but of the word of God.' John i. 13, Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.' It is therefore incumbent on those who plead for the active interest of the will of man in regeneration, to produce some testimonies of Scripture where it is assigned to it, as the effect of its proper use. Where is it said, that a man is begotten anew by himself? And if it be granted, that whatever be our duty or power herein, yet these expressions denote an act of God, and not ours, the substance of what we contend for is granted. It is true, God commands us to circumcise our hearts, and make them new
ders; but a regular compliance with their natural instinct prevails in them; and as the dying of multitudes of infants, argues the imputation of sin to them, so these irregular actings prove sin inherent in them.
2. With the increase of our natural faculties, and the strength of the members of our bodies, this perverse prin• Children ciple acts with more frequency and success. and youth are vanity.' In childhood and youth the mind exerts itself in all kinds of vain actions, foolish imaginations, froward appetites, and falsehood in words. Austin's first book of Confessions is an excellent comment on that text; describing with pathetic complaints, the vanity of youth, and the guilt contracted in it. Some, perhaps, may think that there is no moral evil in these childish innocencies. That good man was of another mind. This is not innocency,' saith he; the same principle and habit of mind carried over to riper age and greater occasions, bring forth greater sins.' And who is there, who has a serious reverence of God and a clear conviction of sin who does not recollect such actings in childhood with shame!
3. These general irregularities are succeeded by actual sins; such as are against the light of nature; the dictates of our consciences, and the influence of those intelligencies of moral good and evil, which are inseparable from our faculties. Among these we may particularly mention lying. The first inducement of our nature to sin, was by a lie; and there is a kind of lie in every sin. Now this is a sin to which childhood is remarkably addicted. How frequently are children surprised into it on the most trifling occasions! and how often do they endeavour, by premeditated falsehoods, to conceal their faults, that they may escape correction! This, that holy person bewails in himself. I saw not (O God) into what a gulph of filth I was cast out from before thee; for what was more filthy than I, while, out of love of play and desire of vanities, I deceived teachers and parents with innumerable lies?' The psalmist seems to reflect on this vice of youth, when he prays, Take from me the way of lying.' Of the same nature are those petty thefts, in taking from parents and governors things that are prohibited. father or mother, and say it is no transgression.' Prov. xxviii. 24. Thus Austin saith he sometimes stole from
'They rob their
his parents, either to gratify his own sensual appetite, or to give to his companions.'
4. Sin gets ground in men as they advance in life. Concupiscence gains strength with years, and grows in violence as persons arrive to ability for its exercise; the instruments of it in the faculties of the soul, the organs of the senses, and the members of the body becoming every day more serviceable to it, and more apt to comply with its motions. Besides the objects of lust are now multiplied. Temptations increase with the affairs of life; but especially by that corrupt conversation which generally abounds: hence many young persons are, one way or other, overtaken with some gross actual sins. That all are not so, is merely the effect of preventing grace. Hence the apostle says, Flee youthful lusts;'-such lusts as work effectually and prevail mightily in young persons, if not subdued by the grace of God. And David, in a sense hereof, prays that God would not remember the sins of his youth.' And a reflection on these is often the torment of age. Thus Austin largely confesses his falling into great sins, such as fornication and uncleanness, in the mire whereof he was long detained; and adds this reason of his humble acknowledgment; I declare these things, O my God, not unto thee, but before thee to my own race, whatever portion thereof may fall on these my writings. And to what end? Namely, that every one who shall read these things may consider, out of what great depths we are to cry unto thee.' Now the consequence of men's falling into such great sins is, that sometimes God takes occasion from them, to awaken their conscience with a deep sense, not of that sin only, but of their other sins also. Thus the great Physician turns poison into medicine; and obliges men, like the Jews of old when charged with the murder of Christ, to cry out, Men and brethren, what shall we do? With others it only proves an entrance into a further pursuit of sin; the bounds of restraint being broken, break through all remaining obstacles, and run to every excess of riot, and to the utmost distance from God that is recoverable by grace. For,
5. A customary course of sinning ensues with many; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.'
Custom in sin takes away the sense of it; the course of the world takes away the shame of it; and love to it makes men greedy in the pursuit of it. Hence are the various courses of sinners in the world, wherein the outrage of some seems to justify the more sedate irregularities of others. Yea, some who are not in a better state towards God than others, will not only start at, but really abhor such excesses. Now this difference arises, not from nature, which is equally corrupt in all men, but from God's restraining grace, by which he keeps some within those bounds which they shall not pass; while he permits others to fall under such a conjunction of lusts and temptations, that they proceed to all manner of evils. Moreover, there are peculiar inclinations to some sins that are enhanced by the temperature of the body; and some persons are more exposed to temptations from their outward circumstances, whereby some are precipitated to all manner of evil. The old man of sin is the same naturally in all; the difference is from the grace of God. He secretly prepares for some a better temperature of nature, docile and pliable to such things as may entertain their minds, and keep them from sensual delights: and some he so disposes of, in their education, callings, and societies in the world, to ways inconsistent with open lewdness, which will much balance their inclinations. This is excellently expressed by Austin :-' I will love thee, O God, and thank thee, because thou hast forgiven me my evil deeds. I impute it to thy grace and mercy, that thou hast made my sins to melt away like ice; and 1 impute it to thy grace as to all the evils which I have not done. For what could I not have done, who loved wickedness for itself! All, I acknowledge, are forgiven me; both the evils that I have done, and what, through thy guidance, I have not done. Who is there who, considering his own weakness, dare ascribe his chastity or innocence to his own strength, that he may less love thee, as though thy mercy were less necessary to him, whereby thou forgivest the sins of them that are converted to thee? For let not him who being called of thee, and having heard thy voice, hath avoided the evils which I have confessed, deride me who, being sick, was healed by that physician, from whom he received the mercy not to be sick,
or not to be so sick.'
This brief account of the actings of corrupted nature, until it comes to the utmost of a recoverable alienation from God, may somewhat illustrate the work of his grace towards us the method of which we shall now consider.
1. Under the ashes of our fallen nature, there are yet remaining certain sparks of celestial fire, consisting in inbred notices of good and evil, of rewards and punishments, of the presence and all-seeing eye of God, of help to be had from him, with a dread of his power when provoked and where there are means of instruction from ministers or parents, these are sensibly improved and increased. These notices God often excites in young persons, so that they occasion some regard of and application to him, and therefore are not to be considered as mere effects of nature. Many persons can recollect such divine visitations in their youth. To this purpose Austin tells us, that he prayed earnestly, to God as a refuge, when he was afraid of being beat at school;' and mentions also some general instruction he received from the Word and from the same principles, when he was surprised with a fit of sickness, he earnestly desired to be baptized, that so he might, as he thought, go to Heaven; for his father not being then a Christian, he had not been baptized in his infancy. With the greatest part, these impressions wear off, as they did with him, who afterwards fell into many flagitious sins; but in some, the Spirit of God by these means inlays the heart with those seeds of grace, which he gradually increases.
2. God works upon men by his Spirit in outward means, to occasion some real steady consideration of him, their distance from him, and their danger of his wrath. It is almost incredible but that daily experience proves it, how men will live under the Word, how they get a form of speaking of God, and of performing religious duties, and yet never come to any steady thoughts of him, or of their concern in his will! God, therefore, begins here, in order to deliver them from the absolute power of vanity. By one means or other he fixes in their minds some steady thoughts of himself; as
(1.) By some sudden amazing judgments, whereby he reveals his wrath against sin.' So Waldo was affected, when his companion was struck dead as he walked with him in the fields: which proved the occasion of his con