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[5. Consider the reasonableness of God's requirements.]
But again. Look at the reasonableness of his requirements. They are not arbitrary but such as it is his bounden duty to enforce. The laws of God have not their foundation in his arbitrary will, but in the nature, and relation, and fitness of things. To love God and our neighbor, is not our duty simply because God requires it; but it is our duty antecedently to any expressed requirement. He requires it, because it is right in itself. He is not therefore at liberty to dispense with our obedience if he please. He cannot good- naturedly humor his creatures and let them have their own way - let them run into sin and rebellion, and then let them go unpunished. He is solemnly pledged and bound by the rules of his own government. If, therefore, you go on in sin, it is not at his option, when you come to the judgment, to punish you or not. The laws of his empire are fixed, eternal principles, which he can no more violate, without sin, than any of his creatures. Do not hope then, if you persevere in sin, to escape "the damnation of hell."
But perhaps, like many others, you have made this excuse for your rebellion; that, upon the whole, God desires you to sin; that, as he is almighty, he could prevent sin if he pleased; and because he does not, you infer that he prefers the existence of sin to its non-existence; and the present amount of rebellion to holiness in its stead. To say nothing of his word and oath upon this subject, you have only to look into his law to see that he has done all that the nature of the case admitted, to prevent the existence of sin. The sanctions of his law are absolutely infinite; in them he has embodied and held forth the highest possible motives to obedience. His law is moral, and not physical; a government of motive, and not of force. It is vain to talk of his omnipotence preventing sin; if infinite motives will not prevent it, it cannot be prevented under a moral government, and to maintain the contrary is absurd, and a contradiction. To administer moral laws, is not the object of physical power. To maintain, therefore, that the physical omnipotence of God can prevent sin, is to talk nonsense. If to govern mind were the same as to govern matter - if to sway the intellectual could be accomplished by the same power that sways the physical universe, then, indeed, it would be just, from the physical omnipotence of God, and from the existence of sin, to infer that God prefers its existence to holiness in its stead. But as mind must be governed by moral power, as the power of motive is the only power that can be brought to bear upon mind to influence it, it is unjust, unphilosophical, illogical, and absurd, to infer from the existence of sin, and God's physical omnipotence, his preference of its existence.
If the motives to obedience are infinite, well might he challenge the universe, and inquire, "what more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done?" And will you, in the face of all these moving considerations, continue your rebellion? and when required to turn, will you profanely reply: If God be Almighty, why does he not turn me? O, sinner, why provoke your Maker? "Your judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not."
[6. Consider the atonement.]
But, again. When the law was broken, and all mankind exposed to its fearful penalty, behold at once the justice to the universe, and mercy to sinners displayed in the atonement. To make an universal offer of pardon, without regard to public justice, were virtually to repeal his law; but a due regard to the public interest forbade the lawgiver to forgive and set aside the execution, without some expedient to secure a veneration [love] for and obedience to the precept [law]. So great, therefore, was his compassion for man, and his regard to law, that to gratify his desire to pardon, he was willing to suffer in the person of his Son, a substitute for its penalty. This was the most stupendous exhibition of self- denial that ever was made in the universe. The Father giving his only begotten and well beloved Son; the Son veiling the glories of his uncreated Godhead, and becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, that we might never die.
Now, if you are an unrepentant sinner, you have never, in a single instance, obeyed your Maker. Every breath that you have breathed, every pulse you have told [of your heart], has but added to the number of your crimes. When God has fanned your heaving lungs, you have breathed out your poisonous breath in rebellion against the eternal God; and how ought God to feel towards you? You have set your unsanctified feet upon the principles of eternal righteousness; you have lifted up your hands, filled with poisoned weapons, against the throne of the Almighty; you have set at nought the authority of God and the rights of man. You have spurned, as with your feet, every principle of right, of love, and of rational happiness. You are the enemy of God, the foe of man, a child of the devil, and in league with hell. Ought not God then to hate you with all his heart?
But in the midst of your rebellion, behold the long suffering of God. With what patience has he borne with all your aggravated wickedness! All this you have done, and he has kept silence. Dare you think that he will never reprove?
[7. Consider the required conditions of repentance and faith.]
But look for a moment at the conditions of the Gospel, Repentance and faith. To repent, is to hate and renounce your sin. This requirement is not arbitrary on the part of God. It would neither be just to the universe, nor beneficial to you, to exercise pardon until you comply with this requirement. Can a sovereign forgive his subjects while they remain in rebellion? Can God forgive you while you persevere in sin? No. This would be to give up his law, and, by a public act, to confess himself wrong and you right, to renounce the stand he has taken, to condemn himself and justify you. But this would be the publication of falsehood, it would be a proclamation that sin is right and holiness wrong. Not only so, but to forgive you, and leave you in your sin, would render your happiness impossible. You might as well proclaim a man in health who is dying with the plague.
Nor is faith an arbitrary appointment of God. God has no means of getting you to heaven unless you believe his word, and walk in the path he points out to you. If you will not believe What he tells you of heaven and hell, of the way to avoid the one and gain the other, your salvation is impossible in the nature of the case. You cannot find heaven at the end of the road that leads to hell, nor hell at the end of the road that leads to heaven, and nothing but faith in what he tells you, can influence you to take the path that leads to heaven. And now, sinner, what have you to say? Why the sentence of his law should not be executed upon you? You have never cared for God, and why should he be under obligation to care for you? You have never obeyed him, what good then do you deserve at his hand? You have always disobeyed him, and what evil do you not deserve? You have broken his law, despised his grace, and grieved his Spirit. "You have cast off fear and restrained prayer." The tendency of your selfish conduct has been to ruin the universe, to dethrone God, to build up the throne and establish the dominion of Satan, to damn yourself and all mankind. This you cannot deny. Let conscience pass sentence upon you. Let it give forth its verdict. Do you not, even now, hear it in the deep recesses of your soul cry out, guilty, guilty, and worthy of eternal death?
[8. The rightful conclusion to these considerations.]
But, sinner, you have seen, in the progress of this discourse, the reasonableness of benevolence, and the hatefulness of selfishness. The right and the duty of God to govern you, and your obligations to obey. You have seen the reasonableness and utility of virtue; the unreasonableness, the guilt, and evil of sin. And now what say you? What is your present duty? Is it right? Is it reasonable? Is it expedient longer to pursue your selfish course? Is it not best, and right, and manly, and honorable, and time, to turn and obey your Maker? Look at the consequences of your present course, to yourself, your friends over whom you have influence, to the church, and to the world. Will you continue to cast firebrands, arrows, and death, - to throw all your influence, your time and talents, your body and soul, into the scale of selfishness! Shall all your influence continue to be upon the wrong side, to increase the wickedness and misery of earth, to gratify the devil and grieve the Son of God? Sinner, if you go to hell, you ought to be willing to go alone; company will not mitigate, but increase your pain. Ought you not then, instantly, to throw all your influence into the other scale; to exert yourself to roll back the tide of death, and save your fellow- men from hell? Do you see the reasonableness of this? What is your judgment in the case? Do not stop to look at your emotions, nor turn your eye in upon your present state of mind; but say, will you cease your rebellion, throw down your weapons, and enlist in the service of Jesus Christ? He has come to destroy the works of the devil, to demolish his empire, and re- establish the government of God in the hearts of men. Are you willing that he should govern the world? Is this your choice? If allowed to vote, would you elect him as supreme Governor of the world? Will you obey him yourself? But do you reply, "Oh! I am so great a sinner, I fear there is no mercy for me?" That is not the question. The question is not, whether he will pardon you, but whether you will obey him. If he saw it not wise to pardon you, if the circumstances of his government require your damnation, is it not on that account the less your duty to obey him. The question for you to settle is, whether you will obey him, and leave the question [matter] of your salvation for him to settle, in view of all the circumstances of the case. He is infinitely wise, and as benevolent as he is wise. You ought, therefore, cheerfully to submit your final destiny to him, to make your duty the object of your attention, and obedience your constant aim. The atonement is full and perfect. The presumption is, that nothing is in the way of your salvation but your impenitence and unbelief; and indeed you have the promise, that on condition of submission to his will, you shall have eternal life. Do you see what you ought to do, and are you willing to do it? "Choose this day whom you will serve." To choose God and his services - to prefer these to your own interest and to every thing else, is to change your heart. Have you done it? Do you still ask, how shall I do it? You might with much more propriety ask, when the meeting is dismissed, how shall I go home? To go home would require two things, first, to be willing; secondly, to put your body in motion. But here, no muscular power is needed. But one thing is requisite, that is a willing mind. Your consent is all that is needed. Be willing to do your duty, [and do it,] and the work is done.
INFERENCES AND REMARKS.
1. From this subject you see why many complain that they cannot submit to God. They do not give their attention to the consideration necessary to lead them to submission. Many occupy their thoughts with their state of feeling, are looking steadily at the darkness of their own minds and the hardness of their own hearts. They are anxiously waiting for the existence of certain feelings in their minds, which they suppose must precede conversion. In this way they will not submit of course. Their mental eye is turned away from the reasons for submission. In this state of mind it is impossible that they should submit; it would be a counteraction of all the laws of mind. Others, instead of attending to the reasonableness and fitness of their Maker's claims, give their whole attention to their own danger, and try to submit while they are only influenced by fear. This is acting under the influence of self- love. It is not responding to the voice of conscience; it is not submission to the laws of right; and, actuated by such motives, the mind may struggle till the day of judgment, and still the considerations that must lead the soul to a right submission are not before the mind, and the soul will not submit. It is the rightness of the duty, and not the danger consequent upon the non- performance of it, that must influence the mind, if it would act virtuously. I have already said, that both hope and fear bear an important part in leading the mind to make the requisite investigation. But neither the one nor the other are the object of the mind's attention at the instant of submission. He, therefore, who does not understand the philosophy of this - who does not understand the use and power of attention, the use and power of conscience, and upon what to fix his mind to lead him to a right decision, will naturally complain that he does not know how to submit.
2. You see the way in which the Spirit of God operates in the conversion of men; it is through the medium of attention and conscience; he gets and keeps the attention of the mind, and, through the influence of hope, and, fear, and conscience, conducts the sinner along the path of truth, till he has given conscience the requisite information to exert its utmost power; that when it gives forth its verdict, the will may respond. - Amen.
3. This is the experience of every Christian. He knows that in this way the Spirit of God exerted its influence to change his heart. His errors and refuges of lies were swept away. He can tell you that his attention was arrested and fixed, that his conscience was enlightened, and the subject pressed upon his mind until he was induced to yield.
4. You see how unphilosophical it is, while pressing the sinner to submission, to divert his mind and turn his attention to the subject of the Spirit's influence. While his attention is directed to that subject, his submission is impossible. He can only submit when his entire attention is directed to the reasons for submission. Every diversion of his attention is but multiplying obstacles in his way. Hence we never find the inspired writers, when calling upon sinners to repent, directing their attention to the subject of divine influence. Begin with Joshua - when he assembled the people of Israel and laid their duty before them, and said, "choose you this day whom ye will serve," he did not unphilosophically remind them at the same time of their dependence upon the Spirit of God; but held the single point upon which they were to choose before them, till their choice was made. So on the day of Pentecost, and in the case of the jailer, and indeed in every other case where prophets, and Christ, find the apostles called men to immediate repentance, we and them keeping close to their text, and not going off to drag in the subject of divine influence to divert the attention and confound their hearers.
5. You see the importance of understanding the philosophy of conversion, and why it is that so many sermons are lost, and worse than lost, upon the souls of men. First, the sinner's attention is not secured; and, secondly, if it is secured, it is often directed to irrelevant matters, and the subject embarrassed with extraneous considerations that have nothing to do with the sinner's immediate duty. Often the subject is not cleared up to his mind; or if he understands it, he does not see its personal application to himself; or if he sees this, he is not made to feel the pressure of present obligation, and not infrequently - `O tell it not in Gath, ' the impression is distinctly left upon his mind that he is unable to do his duty. The preaching that leaves this last impression is infinitely worse than none.
6. From this subject you can see that there are two classes of evidence of a change of heart; one is, those vivid emotions of love to God, repentance for sin, and faith in Christ, that often follow the change of choice. These constitute happiness, they are most sought, and usually the most depended upon, but not deservedly the most satisfactory. Highly wrought emotions are liable to deceive, for, as they cannot be the subject of a present distinct examination without ceasing to exist, they are the least to be depended on as an evidence of a title to the inheritance of the saints in light. The other kind of evidence is an habitual disposition to obey the requirements of God; that abiding preference of God's glory, over every thing else, that gives a right direction to all our conduct.
7. You see, from this subject, the philosophy of self- examination. Many persons will set apart days of fasting and prayer, and spend the day in trying to examine their present mental state, in trying to catch a glimpse of their present emotions. In this way they are sure to quench whatever of right feeling they have. Their past thoughts and feelings, their past actions and motives, may be the subject of present examination and attention; but whenever they make their present emotions or state of feeling the subject of attention, they cease to feel. If, then, you would try your hearts in regard to any object, bring that object before your mind, consider it intensely, and if there be any moral affinity between your state of mind and this object of attention, while you are musing the fire of emotion will burn.
8. From this subject you perceive the error of those persons who suppose themselves to have much more religion than others, merely because they have more emotion. Multitudes of minds seem not to be influenced by principle, but are carried hither and thither by every gust of feeling, by whatever consideration these feelings may be produced; and while they tell of their raptures, their love and joys, they have so little regard to principle as to be guilty of Christ- dishonoring conduct. Others, who much less frequently evince deep emotion, are influenced by a sacred regard to right. They have much more of the consistency of the Christian character, but perhaps complain of the absence of religious joy.
9. From what has been said, it is manifest, that where sinners continue to neglect the means of grace, their case is hopeless. Many seem to think, that if they are to be saved, they shall be saved, and if they are to be lost, they shall be lost; and look upon religion as some mysterious thing, for the implantation of which, in their minds, they must wait the pleasure of a sovereign God. They pay attention to every other subject, and occupy their thoughts with every thing that is calculated to banish religion from their minds, and still hope to be converted. This is as irrational as if a man, desiring to obtain the perfection of Christian sobriety, should continue to riot and drink, and stupefy his powers, and expect that, in some mysterious way, he should by and by become a sober man.
10. From this subject you see the importance of giving a convicted sinner right instruction. Great care should be taken not to divert his mind from fundamental truths. His attention should be abstracted, if possible, from every thing irrelevant, from every thing that regards merely the circumstantials of religion, and brought to bear intensely upon the main question, that of unconditional submission to God.
11. You see the necessity of addressing the feelings, or hopes and fears of men, as a means of awakening them, and securing their attention. Very exciting means are often indispensable, to awaken and secure sufficient attention to lead the way to conversion. When there are so many exciting topics almost continually before the mind, so many Lo! heres, and Lo! theres, to call and fix the sinner's thoughts to worldly objects, we must, of necessity, ply him with the most moving considerations, and that in the most affectionate and earnest manner, or we shall fail to interest his thoughts, and get the subject upon his mind for consideration. One important design of his constitutional susceptibilities is, to afford a medium of access to the attention, and through the attention to the conscience. Many persons seem averse to addressing the feelings of men on the subject of religion, they fear to excite animal feeling, and consequently they in general excite no feeling at all. The reason is obviously this; they overlook some of the most striking peculiarities of the mental constitution. They strive to arouse the conscience, but fail for want of attention. The attention will not ordinarily be secured but by addressing the hopes and fears of men.
12. We should carefully distinguish between a convicted and an awakened sinner. When the sinner is once thoroughly awakened, there is then no need of creating further alarm; and indeed in this situation all appeals merely to hope and fear are rather an embarrassment and a hinderance to the progress of the work. When his attention is thoroughly secured, the favorable moment should be seized upon fully to enlighten his mind, and lead him to a right understanding of his responsibilities and the claims of his Maker. If there is any flagging of the attention, such appeals should instantly be made to the feelings as to arouse and fix the thoughts; and an anxious watchfulness should be constantly kept up to preserve attention, and enlighten the mind as fast as possible. In this way you will most effectually aid the operations of the Holy Spirit, push matters to an issue, and secure the conversion of the sinner to God.
Neglecting to distinguish between awakening and conviction has been the cause of many sad failures in securing sound conversions. Often, when sinners have been merely awakened, they have been treated as if they were convicted: their spiritual guides have neglected to seize the opportunity to force home conviction upon them; they have called on them to submit, before they duly understood the reasons for submission, or the nature of the duty. But, as might be expected, instead of truly performing it, they have imagined themselves willing to do so, till their awakenings have subsided, and the chill apathy of death has settled down upon them.
13. You see that preaching terror alone is not calculated to effect the conversion of sinners. It is useful to awaken, but, unless accompanied with those instructions that enlighten, will seldom result in any good.
14. You see why those that preach alone to the hopes of men, seldom, if ever, effect their conversion. Some go to one extreme and some to the other. Some appeal to fear, and others again to hope, while they seldom reason with the sinner of temperance, of righteousness, or of a judgment to come. They often excite much feeling and many tears; but, after all, such appeals, unaccompanied with that discriminating instruction which the sinner needs, in regard to his duty and the claims of his Maker, will seldom result in a sound conversion.
15. You see the philosophy of special efforts to promote revivals of religion. Why it is that prolonged meetings, and other measures which are new, are calculated to promote the conversion of sinners. Their novelty excites and fixes attention. Their being continued from day to day, serves to enlighten the mind, and has a philosophical tendency to issue in conversion.
Lastly. I remark, that from this subject it will be seen that a death- bed is but a poor place for repentance. Many are expecting, that if they neglect repentance until they come upon a bed of death, that then they shall repent and give their hearts to God. But alas! how vain the hope! In the langour and exhaustion, the pain and distraction, the trembling and the anxiety of a death-bed, what opportunity or power is there for that fixedness and intensity of attention that are requisite to break the power of selfishness and change the entire current of the soul? To think, is labor; to think intensely, is exhausting labor, even to a man in health. But, oh! upon a bed of death, to have the intricate accounts of life to look over, the subject of the soul's character and destiny to ponder and understand; to hold the agonized mind in warm and distressing contact with the great truths of revelation, until the heart is melted and broken, rest assured, is ordinarily, if not always, too great an effort for a dying man. Be it known to all men, that, as a general truth, to which there are but few exceptions, men die as they live, and no dependence can be placed upon those waverings, and flickerings, and gleamings forth of the struggling mind, while the body, all weakness and pain, is breaking down to usher it into the presence of its Maker. Now is your time, in the wakefulness and strength of your powers, while the command to make to you a new heart and a new spirit, and the reasons for the performance of this duty lie fully before you; while the gate of heaven stands open, and mercy, with bleeding hands, beckons you to come; while the pearl of great price is tendered to your acceptance, seize the present moment, and lay hold upon eternal life.