« PreviousContinue »
will follow great conflicts between their corruptions and their convictions, especially in those who have been accustomed to a course of sinning, or to any predominant lust; for the law coming with power to the conscience, requires a relinquishment of all sin, at the eternal peril of the soul. Sin is hereby incited and provoked; and the soul begins to see its disability to conflict with that which before it thought absolutely in its own power. So sin takes occasion by the commandment to work in men all manner of concupiscence; and those who thought themselves to be alive, now find that it is sin which lives, and. that themselves are dead. Rom. iii. 7.
But yet these convictions will produce some endeavours and promises of amendment. These are unavoidable, in order to pacify the law, which bids them do so or perish but such endeavours usually hold only to the next occasion of sin or temptation; the least outward advantage or provocation given to the internal power of sin, slights all such resolutions; and the soul yields itself up to the power of its old ruler. So Austin expresses his own experience after his great convictions, and before his full conversion. I was bound by no other chain than my own iron will. The enemy held this will of mine; and of it he made the chain which bound me; for from the perverse will, unlawful desire is produced; and by frequent yielding to this desire, a habit is formed; and habit unresisted becomes a kind of necessity; by which, as by united links, he held me fast in grievous bondage.' And he shews how faint and languid his endeavours were for reformation: The load of worldly pleasure, as it happens to persons in sleep, agreeably kept me down; and the thoughts whereby I aspired to thee, were like the feeble motions of such as would awake, who nevertheless being conquered by drowsiness, fall back again into their former slumber.' And he confesses, that though, through the urgency of his convictions he could not but pray to be freed from the power of sin, yet through the prevalence of that power, he had a secret desire not to part with that sin which he prayed against. I prayed to thee for chastity; I said, Give me chastity and continence, but do not give it yet; for I was afraid lest thou shouldest hear me too soon, and immediately heal me of
sin s Shawl 24 the renewal of former Daca of a principle it 24 saat will. the nature of To bild Bin AVS it was thus with STA tamalla i ander the power of sin, THE TA”. in collum, të refer to his former 51es de Pasunda" M. I mtals giving an account Tersed TV. ema ters, who immedi127 Zamacet me ▼16 and becca themselves wholly Je serviz af CM. Tas laourse God was pleased to
Tast ise hi irtier 1:1 in end even to amaze
Briewe vind I wished rather to
525 "kli great perplexity and in. le sol is torn and divided 20 and the terror of con
1. TL The sunsure if via de sITS is. That by that Excourse of Fadnis Gat led Fe o the considera200 gi hameels cased in a bebid his own vileness, till he was teemal gemiered and calended in himself.'
Tais efect. i my, proceeds from the secret communicarica si a praciple of grace to the will: which being designed to male in the sick begins its conflict efectually to eject sin out of the throne; the spirit now begins to · lust against the food,” alang at a complete conquest, There was upon bare conviction, a contest between the conscience and the will: but the conflict is now in the will itself; for grace opposes those habitual inclinations to sin which were bere predominant. So it was with Augustine: The new will which began to be in me, whereby I would love thee, O my God, was not yet able to overcome my former will, confirmed by long continuance. So my two wills, the one old, the other new; the one carnal, the other spiritual, conflicted between themselves, and rent my soul by their disagreement. Then I understood, by experience, how the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh. I was myself on both sides, but more in that which I approved in myself, than in what I condemned in myself. I was not more in that which I condemned, because, for the most part, I suffered unwillingly what I did willingly.'
In this tumult of soul, God oftentimes quiets it by some table word of truth in the preaching of the gospel, or
by some other means. In the midst of this storm he comes and says, 'Peace; be still;' communicating with the word some influence of his grace that shall subdue the power of sin, and satisfy the mind in a full resolution for its everlasting relinquishment. Thus it was with him when, like a person distracted, he suffered the terrors of the Lord, sometimes praying, sometimes weeping, sometimes alone, sometimes with his friends, sometimes walking, sometimes lying on the ground, he was, by an unusual occurrence, warned to take up a book and read the book next him, that of Paul's epistle to the Romans, which taking up and opening, the place he first fixed his eyes upon was,- Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.' Immediately, on reading these words, an end was put to his perplexing conflict. He found his whole soul, by the power of almighty grace, subdued to the will of God, and fixed in a resolution to cleave to him, and forsake sin, with an assured composure with respect to the success he should have therein, through Jesus Christ. Immediately he related this, first to his friend, and then to his mother, which proved the occasion of conversion to the one, and of inexpressible joy to the other. Take the conclusion of the story in his own words: Having read these verses, I would read no more; nor was there any need that I should; for on the end of that sentence, as if a light of peace or security had been infused into my heart, all darkness of doubts fled away: marking the book with my finger put into it, or by some other sign, I shut it, and with a quiet countenance declared what was done to Alipius. On which he also declared what was at work in himself, whereof I was ignorant. He desired to see what I had read; which when I had shewed him, he looked further than I had read; nor did I know what followed; but it was this, Him that is weak in the faith, receive :— which he applied to himself, and declared to me; confirmed by this admonition, with a firm purpose and suitable to his manners, wherein he formerly much excelled me, he was united to me without delay. Upon this we go to my mother, and declare what was done; she rejoiceth;
we make known the manner of it, how it was done: she exulteth and triumpheth, and blesseth thee, O God, who art able to do for us more than we know how to ask or understand.' And these things does the holy man record, as he says, 'to repress the swelling pride of mankind.' In the example of Alipius, we perceive how variously God is pleased to effect this work in men; carrying some through strong convictions and great distresses, before they come to peace; leading others gently, without any visible disturbances, to the saving knowledge of himself by Jesus Christ.
Another thing which befals men under this work of conviction, is a dread and fear as to their eternal condition: for,
(1.) Conviction of sin being ordinarily by the law, it is generally accompanied with a deep sense and apprehension of the eternal danger to which the soul is liable on account of the guilt of sin; for the law comes with its whole power on the conscience. Men may be partial in the law, but the law will not be partial. It not only convinces by its light, but condemns by its authority, and even slays the sinner.' Rom. vii. 9.
(2.) This apprehension usually occasions disquieting and perplexing affections in the mind; as sorrow and shame. Shame was the first thing wherein conviction of sin discovered itself; and sorrow always accompanies it. Fear of eternal wrath is also usual; this keeps the soul in bondage, and is accompanied with torment. The person so convinced, believes the threatening of the law to be true, and trembles at it; and these are attended with perplexing, unsatisfactory inquiries after ways of deliverance from this present distress and future misery. What shall we do? What shall we do to be saved? is the restless inquiry of such persons. Acts xvi.
(3.) These things will assuredly put the soul on many duties; as prayer, abstinence from sin, and endeavours after a general change of life.
(4.) We do not ascribe these effects to the mere working of men's passions, on the rational consideration of their state; for these things may be so proposed to men, that they cannot avoid their consideration and the conclusion that follows, and yet not be at all affected; there
fore we say that the law is accompanied with a secret virtue from God, called The Spirit of Bondage,' (Rom. viii. 15.) which causes a sense of the curse to impress the mind, and sometimes to fill it with fear and dread; yea, with horror and despair.
(5.) The substance of these things is usually found in those who are converted in adult years, and capable of. impressions from external administrations; especially in those who have gone far in open sin; but no certain rule or measure of them can be prescribed as necessary antecedently to conversion; for sorrow and dread are not duties, only they frequently follow conviction of sin, which is a duty; they belong, not to the precept of the law, but to its curse; they are no part of what it requires, but of what it inflicts. Gospel-sorrow, after believing, is a duty; -but this legal sorrow is an effect of the curse of the law, and not of its command. Observe also, that God exercises his sovereignty in this whole matter, and deals. with the souls of men in unspeakable variety. Some he leads by the gates of death and hell, to rest in his love; the paths of others he makes plain and easy; some wander long in darkness; in the souls of others Christ is formed in the first gracious visitation.
(6.) But though no certain degree of these consequents of conviction is prescribed as previously necessary to conversion, yet two things, in general, are so; (1.) Such a conviction of sin, that is, of a state of sin, of a course of sin, and of actual sins, as may fully satisfy the soul that it is thereby obnoxious to the curse of the law and the wrath of God; thus, at least, God concludes, and shuts up under sin,' every one on whom he will have mercy; for every mouth must be stopped, and all beguilty before God;'-without this, no man ever did, or ever will believe in Christ; for he calls none to him but those who, in some measure, are quite weary or thirsty, or seek deliverance. (2.) A due apprehension and resolved judgment that there is no way within the compass of a man's own contrivance to find out, or his ability to walk in; nor any other way of God's appointment, which can deliver the soul from the state it is in, but only that which is proposed in the Gospel by Jesus