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reply, We will not walk therein. Prov. i. 22, 24. Jer. vi. 16.
7. Natural men are represented as closing every avenue to the soul, for the express purpose of shutting out the truth, and preventing it from exerting an influence to bring them back to God and his service. “ Their eyes have they closed; lest at any time they should see with their
eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” Matt. xiii. 15. In this passage,
which contains the words of Him who came to save sin. ners, they are represented as closing their eyes, ears, and hearts, against the reception of divine truth ; and as making this dreadful resistance for the
purpose of preventing their own conversion. And this representation agrees with that which the prophets had made before his advent: “ But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law.” Instead of having their shoulders ready to take on them the yoke of the Supreme King, and their ears and hearts open to hear and submit to his law, they pulled away their shoulders, stopped their ears, and made their hearts hard as an adamant stone. See Zech. vii. 11, 12. Surely sinners of the character described by the prophets, and by Christ, cannot be con. sidered as standing ready to receive those invitations of divine mercy which are sent to them.
But it may perhaps be said, that there are natural men of quite a different spirit, who seem ready to forsake their sins and reform their lives, though as yet they pretend to no regenerating change. It has not been my intention to intimate that natural men, as such, are incapable of being in any respect reformed. The Savior speaks of some of this class of men, whom the unclean spirit leaves for a time, so that their house becomes, in a sense, swept and garnished ; and yet, remaining empty, it is ready to receive back its old occupant. Matt. xii. 43–45. The apostle Peter compares such men to a sow that is washed; but which, not being changed into another creature, still re. tains her propensity to wallow in the mire. Such external reformations may be illustrated by the conduct of mariners, who in a storm throw those goods into the sea which they wish back again as soon as the storm is over. In times of distress, sinners often seem to turn to the Lord; but their hearts are still wedded to their lusts. Their heart is deceitful; and this deceit they hold fast, and refuse to return. Jer. viii. 5.
That natural men are obstinately opposed to the offers of the gospel, is evinced by their resistance of the best means which are used to induce them to accept these offers.
1st. They are disposed to resist the influence of the inspired word. We are favored with a book, well authenticated as a revelation from God, containing the whole controversy between Him and us, with a proposed plan of reconciliation. In this book, His character and ours, His claims and our obligations, are explicitly stated. Hostility to this book, it must be acknowledged by all who give credit to its inspiration, is decisive proof of aversion to an adjustment of the controversy between God and ourselves. If men are unwilling to be guided by this lamp of heaven, they do not wish to walk in the path of life. And what is the fact in relation to this matter? Are sinners willing to be guided by the word of God ? Far from it. “ Behold the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach: they have no delight in it.” Again; “I have written unto him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing.". Jer. vi. 10. Hos. viii, 12.
There are many, among those to whom God addresses himself by the written word, who wholly refuse to receive this communication of his will. In the view of every Christian, this refusal must constitute full proof of their disposition to adhere to the standard of rebellion. Nor is it an evidence less decisive of such a disposition, which they give who so wrest the scriptures as entirely to alter the terms of reconciliation. There are many unconverted men that are neither infidels por heretics, who nevertheless with one consent resist the influence which the sacred volume exerts to bring them under the yoke of Christ. It is made exceedingly manifest, nothwithstanding the Bible is a perfect book, and altogether adapted to our necessities, that it will never of itself effect the reconciliation of a single rebel, on the self-denying terms which it declares to be essential to salvation.
2dly. The providences of God, both merciful and afflictive, when added to the calls of his word, prove insufficient to induce the wicked to forsake their evil way, and come over to the standard of reconciliation. “Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness.—Lord, when thy hand is lifted up they will not see.” “ But this people hath a revolting and rebellious heart: they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God that giveth rain, both the former and the latter rain in his season.” In this passage we are shown, that a revolting and rebellious heart is proof against that goodness of God which is manifested in giving us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons. The correcting
rod is rendered ineffectual, by the same revolting rebellious heart : “ Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved ; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction : they have made their faces harder than a rock ; they have refused to return." Isa. xxvi. 10, 11. Jer. v. 3, 23, 24. It is made very evident by the declarations of scripture, supported by stubborn facts, that our mercies can not be so numerous as to draw us ; nor our afflictions so severe as to drive us to an unfeigned reconciliation to God.
3dly. They who are under the power of moral death will reject the overtures of mercy, when presented and pressed upon them by the ministry of reconciliation. The ministry is a divine appointment, and as means it is remarkably adapted to produce the desired effect. They who are designed to be entrusted with this work, are those whom God, after reconciling them unto himself, and richly enlightening them in the knowledge of his will, has constituted his ambassadors, to negotiate a treaty of peace with such of their fellow men as still continue in a state of revolt. They are to instruct them into all divine truth, and affectionately pray them in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God. And what is the reception with which they meet ? When Christ was giving to his first ministers their commission, he said, “ Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves." Those, whom in the name of their Master they invite to the gospel feast, beg to be excused from
accepting the invitation. Sinful men, even such as have not been recovered by grace, are compared to the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear; which will not hear the voice of the charmers, charming never so wisely. Ps. lviii. 4,5. The gospel is a glorious system of divine benevolence, it is good news to our apostate world, being entirely adapted to our guilty and miserable condition ; and yet it can not be
1 preached so frequently, or skilfully, as to overcome the prejudices and rebellious feelings of Adam's apostate children. As to any sufficiency to effect this desirable object, the sinner's acceptance of gospel salvation, he that planteth and he that watereth are nothing. 1 Cor. iii. 7. We often see the gospel preached, both publicly and from house to house, without any success. The ambassador of Christ beseeches all his hearers, collectively and individually, to become reconciled to God; and yet not one of them becomes reconciled. He repeats his message through every sabbath of the year, and accompanies it with much instruction and strong motives ; but often happens that the year closes without a single addition made to the church, and without a hope that any one has been turned from the power of Satan unto God.
4thly. One of the most striking proofs of the truth of the doctrine contained in this Article, is derived from that reception which CHRIST met with when he preached his own gospel. He came for the express purpose of dying for sinners, and calling them to repentance. No one can doubt, that every thing which he did in relation to the salvation of men, was done perfectly. He taught the way of truth perfectly, both as to matter and manner. His heart was full of benevolence. This beamed in his countenance, and sanctified his whole deportment. I hope there is no servant who will imagine, that, in preaching the gospel and presenting the claims of God, he has acquired a skill
unknown to his Master. To the end of the world it must remain true, Never man spake like this man. In a supreme sense, Christ is “the Light of the world.” But this Light shone in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. “ Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” “No man received his testimony.” John i. 5, 11, and iii. 19, 32. The evangelical prophet represents him as uttering this com. plaint, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain.” Isa. xlix. 4. Here is a practical demonstration, that the gospel offer can not be so advantageously presented as to secure its acceptance.
5thly. Sinners, so long as they remain in unregeneracy, resist the gospel call when presented by the divine Spirit. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.” Acts vii. 51. God says, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man;" which expression implies the strong resistance which we are inclined to make to the Spirit's influence. Could we make dependence on any class of sinners, that they would accede to the conditions of salvation, we should select those who are under the awakening influences of the Holy Spirit. In this class, I think, we may reckon that Roman governor who trembled when he heard Paul reason of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come. He now enjoyed the best of preaching, and it appears to have been set home on his conscience, by the awakening influences of the Spirit ;
and still he was not ready to be reconciled to God. The true feelings of every carnal mind were expressed, when he said, “Go thy way for this time.” Acts xxiv. 25. Every awakened sinner does not, like Felix, interrupt the preacher whose doctrine gives him pain; nor even wish him to desist from delivering his message: but there is no sinner so pressed with conviction of sin, and danger of eternal damnation, as not still to wish to delay an unfeigned submission to God. There is no man, whether Jew or gentile, while remaining in unregeneracy, who does not, with his whole heart, reject the overtures of mercy made to him through the mediation of Jesus Christ. However much his understanding may be enlightened, or his conscience awakened, it is still the language of his heart, “ I will not have this man reign over me.” While the Spirit proceeds no further than to excite attention, and present motives, leaving the carnal mind to its own choice, there is nothing in it better than enmity against God and insubjection to his holy law. Rom. viii. 7.
In an awakened state of mind, the sinner is willing, rather than be forever miserable, to hear the gospel, and, like Herod who heard John, he will do many things. But, to the very last, there is one thing that he is unwilling to do; he is totally unwilling to accede to the terms of salvation which are proffered him. The terms, though very gra. cious, are at the same time very holy. God stands ready for Christ's sake to forgive all that is past ; but he will not forgive, unless the sinner repents; and his repentance must rise above selfishness. He must deny himself, else he cannot become an acceptable disciple of the holy Jesus. To such terms he is opposed—as obstinately opposed, as be. fore he was awakened to see his danger. He can now be persuaded to relinquish his external transgressions ; but a supreme love to self, that fountain whence every corrupt straem has issued, he is entirely unwilling to dry up.
At this crisis, because Christ, by his word and Spirit, stands at the door of his heart, he imagines that he himself is the one who is knock. ing, and that Christ's door is the place where it is done. He thinks that he stands waiting for the Savior to open to him. Now if this were indeed true, the door of mercy would be at once thrown open to him : for He who cannot lie has said, To him that knocketh it shall be opened. The first rap at mercy's door is heard, and is sure to gain admittance. But it is not so with Christ's knockings at the door of our heart. He stands long and knocks loud; and, instead of opening the door to give admittance, we bolt it against him. And this we do even after we are made to tremble in view of the fearful consequences of our obstinacy. Conviction of danger does not generate holiness. Nor does a conviction of our obligation to love God induce that love. We see, and still we hate. John xv. 24. Holiness is the very thing which the sinner hates ; therefore that Being which has the most of it is the most hated. Had the gospel been any thing else, besides a sys. tem of holiness, the carnal mind might have submitted to it: but as it now is, the same carnal mind, which is enmity against God, and is not subject to his holy law, cannot submit to the gospel—that is, can not be pleased with a scheme of grace which is in perfect accordance with that law.
The writer has not the least disposition to misrepresent or exaggerate the depravily of human nature ; but as he has been sully convin. ced of this obstinacy in sin, in relation to his own heart, and as he thinks the scriptures clearly show this to be the character of the whole unregenerate world, he considers it a matter of high importance to be understood by every child of Adam. It is made essential to inter. course with our Maker, that we should know every man the plague of his own heart. 1 Kin. viii. 38. Till we are apprised of our moral helplessness, we cannot know how dependent we are on the grace of God for relief. All grant our nature is depraved; but many seem to think this depravity is not total. Among those who acknowledge its entire. ness, there are some who do not believe it to be so obstinate and unyielding as it has now been represented to be; at least, they do not believe that this unyielding obstinacy extends to every unrenewed mind. In view of this difference of opinion, on a subject of such pri. mary importance in the scheme of grace, the writer wishes still to detain the reader, while he turns his attention more directly to these two points, viz. the universality and the pertinacious obstinacy of our refusal of the gospel offer.
First. Its universality. All refuse. He who provided the gospel feast, gives us this account of the reception his invitation meets ;
They all with one consent began to make excuse.” Luke xiv. 18. The guests are not all invited at one time; nor do they make precisely the same excuse; but they all have some excuse to make; and appear as much united in it as if they had previously held a general council, and come to this result, that they would all, to a man, refuse any invi. tation which might be presented to them by the servants of Christ. Under the appellation of Wisdom, Christ declares, “ I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded,”–
-no man, not an individual, ac. cepted my invitation. John, the forerunner of Christ, says concerning him, “No man receiveth his testimony." Paul asserts, “ There is none that seeketh after God.”
But do not these expressions, it may be said, import that it is the prevailing, rather than the universal disposition of men, to reject the gospel offer? What reason, I would ask, can exist for understanding these comprehensive expressions in a restricted sense? Do not the scriptures show that we have all descended from the same parents, and that in common we inherit their depraved nature? Do not the scriptures teach that, in the grand features of character, men are alike, even as face answereth to face in water-alike, so that it is proper to speak of them all as having but one heart? Prov. xxvii. 19. Eccl. viii. 2. Who of this fallen race has a right to say, that he inherits a purer nature than his fellows? “ Are we better than they?”, that is, are we Jews better than the gentiles? “ No, in ro wise ; for we have before proved both Jews and gentiles, (viz. the whole race of Adam,) that all are under sin.” Rom. iii. 9. To the Jews Christ crucified is a stum. bling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; that is, to such of both nations as have not been called. 1 Cor. i. 23, 24.
Men are agreed in rejecting Christ, who are agreed in nothing else. In this, Herod and Pilate became friends. Luke xxiii. 12. All the heterogeneous materials, of which human society is composed, seem