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The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost


The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost Sermon 7

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The Divinity of and Operations Of the Holy Ghost


SERMON VIII.

The Subject Concluded

“Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” Acts 19:2

When the subject which hath now been so amply dis­cussed, was first proposed to your consideration, the original design of it was, by an examination of the scriptural evidences, in that great branch of theology, relating to the Person, Godhead, and Ministry of the Holy Ghost, to ascertain the certainty of the doctrine, and thereby to excite, if possible, the careless to a more awakened regard to it; to convince the unbeliever of its truth; and to provide for the stability of its faith in the breast of the weaker Christian. Lamenting, that a topic so infinitely grand in itself, and so important to us in our present fallen state, should be so little regarded, I flattered myself that it required only to be more gene­rally considered, in order to call up a more animated attention to it. And though perfectly conscious, that the closest application, to this, or any other of the sacred subjects, in the sublime science of religion, could not be in the least available, unless followed by the Divine blessing; yet having entered upon this service with pre­viously imploring the light of heaven to direct my path, and preserving a never-ceasing dependence upon the same gracious help, through every step which has been taken in the way, I have reason to hope, that the mercy requested has not been denied. I have only in conclu­sion, to lift a grateful eye of acknowledgment for what­ever aid the divine benignity hath afforded, and humbly to submit the event of the whole, to the determination of Him who orders all things in wisdom.

When I review the long train of evidence of the personality, the Godhead, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost; the examination of which we have gone over, through both Testaments of Scripture; though the whole, which we are enabled to trace, forms no more than the mere outlines of the subject; I stand amazed in the contemplation, and know not, whether to admire more, the infinite greatness of the Being as he is in Himself, or the infinite humility which he has manifested in his attention towards us. What a marvelous con­descension was it in the Son of God, when for the pur­pose of human redemption, he took upon himself our nature, and submitted to that series of humiliation and suffering, which is related of him in the Gospel, and which excited, as indeed it well might, the desire even of the angels to look into it. But how does the plan of mercy continue to affect us by its sublimity, when we go on to behold the Eternal Spirit directing his attention to the same mysterious purpose! It was not sufficient that the Son of God should redeem mankind by his blood, but also the efficacy of that high oblation must be imparted to every believer’s breast, by the operation of the eternal Spirit. In the ministry which he exercised on the minds of men, from the very beginning of the world, by prophecies, visions, and miracles, all preparatory to our Lord’s advent, which we trace through the Old Testament; and in the immediate offices of his divine agency, revealed of him under the New, in regenerating our fallen nature, and taking the human heart for his temple: what an astonishing subject does the whole open to the contemplation of the mind of man; and what an awfulness and importance does it give to the scheme of salvation!

From the plain testimonies which have been brought before you, in the course of the observations which have been made on our present subject, the certainty of these truths, however attended with difficulty in the apprehension, hath, I persuade myself, fully appeared. Whether the evidence adduced may have proved suffi­ciently satisfactory, so as to obtain the unreserved con­viction of the two former classes of persons, whom I had in view in this address; or whether either of those different characters of men may have condescended to attend at all to what hath been advanced, or have ac­companied me thus far in the work, I know not. Ear­nest as I am, that the whole should not be lost upon them, I can do no more, than in an impartial and unim­posing manner, offer the proofs of this great doctrine, as they arise from Scripture, to their consideration, and pray, that they may be rendered effectual to the purpose intended, under the Divine blessing. To propose fair reason and argument, and to entreat a candid attention, are all that, upon such occasions, belong to the duties of man. To fasten conviction on the heart is the pro­vince of God. And we have authority to conclude, that where a due regard to this first and predisposing cause of all, is kept up in the mind upon all subjects of doubtful nature, the humblest endeavors of human means become sufficient to bring about the purposes of the Divine will. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant,” (Ps. 25:14). But where this is wanting, the most powerful evidences lose their efficacy of persuasion. The vineyard, of which we read, though planted with the choicest vine, and situated on the most fruitful hill, and altogether in the highest state of cultivation, yet brought forth no fruit; because, after long expectation in vain of its produce, under all the advantages which it pos­sessed, the clouds were at length commanded to “rain no rain upon it,” (Isa. 5:1-6).

But whatever the event shall be to the inattentive, or to the unbeliever, I would fain persuade myself, that the humble Christian hath received, under Divine assist­ance, the most ample satisfaction as to the truth of the doctrine, from the evidence which hath been produced. And having his understanding convinced, he is anxious to be led on to the inward conviction of the same, and to the practical effects resulting therefrom. Once con­vinced, that the efficient ministry of the blessed Spirit is exercised in the hearts of all true believers, to the great purposes of salvation; it is impossible to be indifferent or unconcerned in the examination of the personal in­terest which every man has in it. For however satisfied he may be, of the agency of the Holy Ghost, generally considered, and that it is by his operations that the Redeemer’s merits are applied to the sinner’s necessities; yet, if he hath no evidence of such effects in his own heart, how great and important soever the doctrine may be in itself (with reverence be it spoken) it ceases to be so to him. All knowledge upon this interesting topic, which terminates not in the personal application of it to a man’s own bosom, is merely speculative: the being preached to, or reasoned with by a chain of arguments, which end in the hearing of the ear, and pass away from the mind almost as soon as heard, are as impressions made on the water. It is not worth the labor of a single sermon, to produce no better effect than this. And fruitless, indeed, is all the attention which is given, either to the animating subject of the great Redeemer’s love, or to the pleasing consideration of the ministry of the blessed Spirit in the hearts of believers, unless a man can add to both the comfortable assurance that he is himself interested in the mercies he contemplates, and will ultimately participate in the blessings resulting from them. But when the serious Christian is led to know and feel his own personal concern therein, is convinced that Christ not only died for sin, but for his sin, and that the operations of the Holy Ghost are carried on, not in the world only, but in his heart also; the subject then becomes infinitely interesting, and the mind is gratified with the highest of all possible enjoyments in the possession of that testimony, which the apostle speaks of with so much rapture, when “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God,” (Rom. 8:16).

As this is, or ought to be, the great desideratum [something that is needed or wanted; prerequisite] of every man’s heart, to the attainment of which the several means of grace are directed, and all the institutions of religion minister, I hope I shall be doing no unaccept­able service, if my endeavors are exerted in assisting the serious Christian towards the accomplishment of it. The subject itself is interesting, and as it leads to the examination of the heart, for the traces of the blessed Spirit’s ministry, it will form a very proper sequel to these discourses, and, under the Divine blessing, enable any man to satisfy himself on the important question in the text, which the apostle seems to have considered as the truest criterion of a right faith; “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”

Before I enter upon the subject, I would beg leave to premise, that what I shall offer, must necessarily be limited to general observations. In the numberless instances by which the efficient means of grace are manifested, I do not presume to describe the exact manner in which the work of the Holy Spirit is con­ducted in the soul of man. God is a sovereign agent, whose operations are neither confined to mode, nor circumscribed by form. In all his gracious dealings with his creatures, he acts in what way, and in what manner, is agreeable to his infinite wisdom. And no doubt, the different dispensations of his grace are imparted in different proportions, and distinguished by a diversity of gifts, all corresponding to the accomplishment of the purposes intended, “dividing to every man severally as he will.” All that we can possibly discover of those secret and mysterious proceedings is from judging of causes by effects; and therefore, all that I shall venture to attempt on this subject will be, to sketch some of the more striking traces of his ministry, as they are mani­fested in the life of the true believer. They may, and certainly do, differ in various persons, but the prominent points are the same in all: like the general form and features of the human countenance, which however in­finitely diversified, are yet sufficiently characteristic in every one to indicate the species to which it belongs.

I shall begin with observing, that one of the first evidences we have, that the ministry of the blessed Spirit hath been exercised in the heart; or, more properly speaking, in the words of the apostle, that a man hath “received the Holy Ghost since he believed;” arises from the clear and perfect conviction which he possesses of sin. I mention this first, and in priority of order, because from the observations of our blessed Lord upon the subject, and perhaps I might add, from the common experience of mankind concerning it, this should seem to be in general the preparatory work of grace in the heart.

That the gospel of Christ is altogether founded on the fallen and lost state of human nature, it would be superfluous, I take for granted, to produce arguments in proof: for, indeed, this is the peculiar and distinguishing feature of our holy faith. And that this idea of Chris­tianity presupposes in the favored objects of its clemency, a thorough conviction of their own wants and unworthiness, together with suitable apprehensions of the Divine mercy in the appointment of such a salvation as hath been accomplished, must also be implied. For as Christ justly reasons, “They that are whole need not a physician; it is only they that are sick,” (Luke 5:31). And as the man in perfect health would reprobate the proposal of any person’s giving medicine to him; so equally absurd would it be to, recommend the expe­diency of a Redeemer to a person truly righteous. It should seem, therefore, that nothing could be more pal­pable and obvious, than that a sense of sin must precede the apprehension of salvation; and that the soul which is conscious of being lost, can only know the want or value of a Saviour. But with these facts in full view, however in theory the doctrine may be allowed, in practice it is overlooked and forgotten. It would be almost endless to enumerate the great variety of causes by which the cor­ruption and apostasy of man is hidden from his sight. With some, slight, notions of sin satisfy the mind, as if the moral turpitude of it was of little consequence, and human offences were for the most part venial. Whilst others content themselves with partial and unconcerned confessions of unworthiness, as though there were a merit in the acknowledgment, and the heart might remain uninterested. Another class, confidently presuming that the law is not so strict as hath been represented, venture to conclude, that a general sincerity of character is all that is required, and that a good intention will supply the place of a perfect obedience.1 And many more, improving on this doctrine, have gone so far as to fancy man in himself to be an amiable creature, frill of benevo­lent affections, and that the great purpose of his present existence is, for the discharge of his social duties: con­signing over, therefore, other obligations to such as find themselves interested in them, they sit down perfectly composed and satisfied, trusting that a general inof­fensiveness of behavior towards their neighbor, will be sufficient to recommend them to the mercy of their God. And thus, with even the Scriptures in their hands, what multitudes are there who live and die in the vanity of their minds, unacquainted with the real state of their fallen nature, and unconscious of any operation of grace in the soul; and go down to the grave full of compla­cency, having but little apprehensions of their own un­worthiness, and but slight and superficial views of the necessity of a Redeemer!

To reprove for this sin, in all its multiform appear­ances, is the sole work of the Holy Ghost; and simple and perspicuous as the operation may appear, it is in His power only to accomplish it. Not all the argu­ments of reason, nor all the checks of conscience in the mind, which the most inconsiderate and thoughtless are at times visited with; no, nor even all the solemn and positive declarations of the Word of God itself, until the Holy Spirit of grace has given energy to it by His in­fluence, can impress the conviction of it in sufficient force upon the soul. The situation which the prophet Daniel was reduced to, when “his comeliness was turned into corruption,” (Dan. 10:8), (and which will be the state of every man, when viewing himself in a right light), can be effected only by the operation of the blessed Spirit. And if you are really anxious to gain informa­tion in a matter which infinitely concerns you, and would know whether “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed,” you cannot have a more infallible standard, than in what arises from the evidences of your own heart upon this very point.

Shall I then desire you to pause and examine your­self by those principles? Have you the most ample conviction of human guilt, as it must appear before God? Seeing that both prophets and apostles have testified in all their writings the fallen state of human nature, are you impressed with a perfect sense of it? Can you from your heart adopt the same sentiments of yourself, as those faithful servants of the Lord humbly entertained after all their labors? Can you say with David,’’ behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me,” (Ps. 51:5); and with Isaiah; “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,” (Isa. 6:5); with Job, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes,” (Job 42:6): and with St. Paul, “I know that in me dwelleth no good thing,” (Rom. 7:18). If those holy men of God possessed such humble ideas of themselves, even as we are told, to have “the sentence of death in themselves, that they might not trust in themselves,” (1 Cor. 1:9); and to cry out, under the conviction of sin, in such words as one of them hath done, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death,” (Rom. 7:24): are you not most awfully convinced that slight and formal acknowledgments of sin cannot correspond with the conviction that is wrought by the blessed Spirit? And therefore, by these rules you will be able to form an accurate judgment of yourself, whether “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed.”

And if such a sense of sin be absolutely necessary to precede the desire of deliverance from it; if by nature man is thus fallen and corrupt, and must have a recovery and cleansing to prepare him for another state; and if the consciousness of his misery can only lead the heart to seek the means of redemption; think in how dangerous a situation that soul stands, who is hourly hastening to his eternal home, and hath but a few steps more per­haps to accomplish his journey; and yet ignorant of the corruptions of his nature, uninformed of his wretched­ness, hath never felt uneasiness under the burden of sin, nor lifted a voice of supplication to be delivered from it! Punish me, O my God, as often, and as severely as thy mercy sees necessary, and my departure from duty re­quires; but let me not sleep over my offences, and remain unconscious of my corruption and my sin! Let thy chastisement rouse me to seek the means of redemption, and let thy Holy Spirit lead me to the way of peace; lest falling into the sleep of death, with a nature unwashed in the blood of Christ, and unregenerated by the Holy Ghost, I shall only then awake and open my eyes in a future state to the awful concerns of eternity, where the season of grace will be known no more!

I pass on to another distinguishing property, whereby the operations of the Holy Ghost in the heart may be ascertained and known; namely, by effecting in the believer’s mind sincere and true repentance. This is what the prophet predicted should be the immediate consequence of the Lord’s pouring out, in the latter days, a spirit of grace and supplication upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem: that “they should look upon him whom they had pierced, and mourn as one that mourneth for his only son, and be in bitterness as one in bitterness for his first-born,” (Zech. 12:20). And wherever the Holy Ghost hath shed his gracious influence and produced the effects de­scribed, under the preceding instance of his ministry, in “convincing the heart of sin,” the soul will be involun­tarily led to mourn over a nature so corrupt and fallen as she finds in herself, and “repent in dust and ashes.”

It is beside my present purpose to enter upon the doctrine of repentance itself, or to offer any argument by way of proving it to be an indispensable duty. Few; I believe, will venture to deny it. But all that I am now interested to show is, that where this principle is wrought and manifested in the heart by its pure and genuine properties, it carries with it the most convincing proof of, the divine agency of the Holy Ghost, because this, like all other graces of the Spirit, can only origi­nate from his operations.

It was among the first purposes of our blessed Lord in his donations upon mankind, after his being exalted as a Prince and Saviour, to “give repentance to Israel and remission of sins,” (Acts 5:31). And accordingly we find the apostles rejoicing upon every occasion, when this blessed gift of the Holy Spirit was imparted. When Peter related before the brethren at Judea the circumstances of the conversion of Cornelius, it is said that “they glorified God, because that he had granted to the Gentiles also repentance unto life,” (Acts 11:18). And hence St. Paul, when recommending to Timothy the manner in which he should labor for the spiritual wel­fare of his hearers, places the whole hopes of the suc­cess of his ministry upon this foundation, “if God per­adventure would give them repentance to the acknow­ledgment of the truth,” (2 Tim. 2:25). “Knowing,” as he elsewhere observed, that “it is the goodness of God which leadeth to repentance,” (Rom. 2:4).

As the clear apprehension of this doctrine is of the utmost importance to a religious audience, I very much wish that it came within the limits which I am obliged to observe, to give it a particular discussion. For if it were once rightly understood, it might tend, under the influences of Divine grace, to prevent the very melan­choly scenes which the ministers of the gospel are but too often witnesses of, in the discharge of one of the parochial duties of their office, the visitation of the sick; when the unhappy persons laboring under any bodily disorder, from mistaken conceptions of the nature of repentance, and unconscious from whose gracious operation in the soul the blessing must be derived, are prompted to take up with a false and spurious kind of it, and “speak peace to themselves when there is no peace.” Though my present plan precludes the possibility of going into this subject largely, yet I shall offer a few observations, which will serve to throw some light upon it, and place the doctrine in a, clearer point of view than that in which it hath been generally represented. And this purpose will be fully obtained by dis­tinctly stating the leading characters, which distinguish the true and sincere repentance that cometh from God, from the false and deceitful form, which is but too com­monly substituted for it in the world. This discrimina­tion will enable any man, who is serious in the inquiry, and explores the subject with a proper dependence upon the aid of heaven, to ascertain the point with pre­cision, and to satisfy himself upon this as well as on the former particular, whether he hath “received the Holy Ghost since he believed.”

The principles of true and false repentance are so perfectly distinguishable from each other, and spring from sources so opposite, that a small attention is suffi­cient to discern them by their respective qualities. In false repentance, there is no dislike to the past trans­gressions, but for their consequences. The sole motive of distress originates in the awakened apprehensions of what may result from iniquity, and in dreadful fore­bodings of Divine wrath. On the contrary, the most striking feature of that true repentance which arises from the Spirit of grace in the heart, is an irreconcilable hatred to sin, as the sad cause of all misery, ac­companied with the most poignant sorrow, for having offended so infinitely gracious and merciful a Being as God. These great outlines in the character of both are sufficient to define their opposite causes and effects; and whoever attends to them in the examination of each, will find an uniform correspondence and connec­tion extending to every part of the conduct.

The sins and corruptions of our fallen nature are in themselves, generally speaking, productive of such woeful consequences, that they must unavoidably, sooner or later, induce an anguish of heart. It is hardly pos­sible for anyone, when smarting under the effects of them, to restrain the tear of sorrow. The man who has lost his reputation by dishonesty, or broken his con­stitution by intemperance; he who has reduced himself to poverty by extravagance, or ruined his family by dis­sipation; in short, whoever by his vices of any kind has brought misery upon himself, and estranged from him the love and affection of mankind, when sinking at once under the load of guilt and disease, without friends and without comfort, almost unpitied and disregarded; in such a situation, among either of these characters, repentance is unavoidable. No man can look back but with sorrow upon a train of conduct productive of such evils. But if this be all the cause of his distress, it is evident there is no regard had to God in it: the whole arises from merely personal and worldly considerations: there is no compunction of heart for a life of ingrati­tude and rebellion against God; no sorrow for having slighted the sufferings of the blessed Redeemer for sin; nor distress for having grieved the Holy Spirit. These are considerations of no weight in the scale of false repentance. And as the only motives which induce sorrow, are the smart of present pain and the presage of future punishment; supposing these causes possible to be removed, the effect would also cease. The sinner would return to his former courses with renewed delight; and in the language of the sensualist described in Scrip­ture, would exult in the gaiety of his heart: “Come and let us fetch wine and fill ourselves with strong drink, and tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,” (Isa. 56:12). Every species of repentance induced by such causes, is what the apostle Paul, in his empha­tical way of expression, calls “the sorrow of the world,” which is totally contrasted, both in its nature and effects, to the godly sorrow which bringeth repentance. “Godly sorrow (says he) worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death,” (2 Cor. 7:10).

But if you analyze the repentance which arises from the operation of the blessed Spirit in the heart, you will find all those properties which prove it to be pure and genuine. The true penitent hath an eye principally to God in all the causes and motives of his sorrow. The language of his heart is, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!” (Rom. 7:24). “Against Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight,’’ (Ps. 51:4). “I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,” (Ps. 51:3. 9, 10). “Lord, let it be thy pleasure to deliver me: make haste, O Lord, to help me,” (Ps. 40:13). Such are the sentiments of a real penitent, in whom the Lord hath poured a “spirit of grace and of supplication!” In whose language you may plainly discover that his greatest distresses arise from the consciousness of human depravity and human guilt. They are not induced so much by the fear of punishment as the dread of sin: not for this reason only, that he is conscious of being liable to the awful judgment of God, but that he is also sensible he justly deserves it. And though in the contemplation of the rich mercies of Christ, he is led to hope that God will forgive him, yet he cannot forgive himself.

The difference therefore between a false and true repentance, is as great as anything the circumstances of human life will admit, or the opposite sources from whence they originate, can be supposed to produce. The one arises solely from man, the other cometh from God. The one is the effect of fear; the other, of love. The one is excited by the dread of punishment; the other by that of sin. The one still loves the cause of his misery; to the other it is his greatest aversion. In the one, the sorrow is merely mechanical, for the heart remains the same as before: in the other, the sorrow is real, for the heart is changed. In the one, repentance is the employment of a season: with the other, it is the habitual practice of life. The reformation, if attempted by the one, is partial, and intends no more than what may be hoped to compensate for past sins: the aim of the other is no less than an entire change of heart and life; and he studies not only how to walk and please God, but also “to abound therein more and more.”

These are very discriminating marks, and surely suf­ficient to enable any man to discern the true principle of godly repentance, which is wrought by the Holy Spirit in the true believer, from that false resemblance of it, which men of the world put on and off, like an upper garment, as occasion suits, when compelled to it by their fears. If I have been happy enough to explain the subject properly, I hope a satisfactory answer may be obtained from it to the question in the text, by everyone who is sincerely desirous of it, and who will look into his own heart for that purpose, whether in this evidence also, as in the former, he hath “received the Holy Ghost since he believed.” 2

The third distinguishing operation of the Holy Ghost in the heart is manifested, when the believer is led to regard Christ as “the sole cause of salvation.” When I say the third, I beg to be understood that I do not mean, by this way of speaking, to describe either the form or manner in which the work of the blessed Spirit is carried on in the soul. Christ is the whole of salva­tion; his incommunicable work hath nothing to add to it; neither can anything be taken from it. But by the third operation of God the Holy Ghost on the heart, I meant to say, that the Lord the Spirit having, by the two former, namely, conviction of sin, and sorrow of soul, prepared the mind, now leads the awakened sinner to Christ alone for salvation. I would desire to remind you of what was before observed respecting his gracious dispensations, that both in the distribution and method of bestowing them, he acts according to the purposes of his own will. In my endeavors to sketch the shades of his ministry, all that I am concerned to demonstrate from them is, the evidences they bring, that the Spirit of grace, with his favorable influence, hath operated upon the heart. But whether the first operation of his mercy be manifested by awakening in the sinner’s mind a conviction of sin, and then progressively leading him to repentance; or whether, by opening to the eye of his soul affecting views of the Redeemer’s sufferings for his offences and those of the human race, the heart is prompted to feel its unworthiness, and to mourn over a nature so miserably corrupt and fallen as it is: these are circumstances in the operations of grace which I do not presume to explain. In some, no doubt, the conviction of sin is a preparatory work; witness the apostle Paul, and the three thousand who were pricked in their hearts by the effect of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. But from others we are at a loss to conclude, whether humbling views of human transgression preceded or followed in the steps of conversion. Who shall take upon him to say what method the blessed Spirit was pleased to adopt in imparting the influence of his grace to Zaccheus, or the Ethiopian, or Lydia, whose heart was at once opened? All that I mean, therefore, in describing the operations of the Holy Ghost, under several distinct particulars, is for the sake of regularity and order, and not with the most distant idea to imply, that the ministry of his grace is conducted in the manner it is here stated. These are among the “secret things which belong to the Lord our God;” but “those which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever,” (Deut. 39:29).

In that proof of the agency of the Holy Ghost, now under consideration, his divine acts are exerted in teaching the believer to place his entire confidence in Jesus, as the sole cause of salvation. And in no one operation of his grace is his divine influence more needful, in order to induce such a principle of faith in the heart of man. For nature, unenlightened and untaught by the blessed Spirit of truth, revolts at the doctrine of righteousness by a, Redeemer, and is forever proposing other means of justification with it. The natural man cannot possibly reconcile himself to the belief of this truth, being persuaded that something must be done on his part also, by way of auxiliary to the Saviour’s merits; and fancies that a contrary opinion tends to relax the principles of virtue, and must produce a disregard to good works. Hence the endless substitutions which, in various ages of the church, have been devised, to quiet the clamors of conscience, and propitiate the favor of God. I should exceed the limits I intended to observe, were I to enumerate but a small part only of the methods by which this self-righteousness hath been manifested in the world. For instance, by alms-deeds and works of charity; by personal suffering and fasting; by stated periods appro­priated to repentance; by a diligent application to the forms of religion. To this one cause what a profusion of liberality may be ascribed! How many hospitals have been built for the poor, and churches consecrated to God! How many sacrifices have been offered by way of commutation in the punishment of the body, for the sin of the soul! To soothe their minds, what compro­mises have men proposed for the purchase of heaven! If God would dispense with certain duties, they would repay him with a greater portion of prayers; and the want of inward purity should be compensated with an increased attention to outward ceremonies of worship. Nay, even among those, whose religion should have taught them better, who were willing to accept of Jesus under the character of a Saviour; yet by qualifying his commission, as if connected with the joint operation of human merit in the attainment of salvation, they have reduced the value of his sacrifice to a mere nothing, and left him but little more than the name. By partly seeking salvation through Christ, and partly in themselves: supposing that their own righteousness is taken into the account, and that the righteousness of Jesus supplies the deficiency of their own; by thus laying the foundation in man, and completing the work in God: what a motley redemption is made of it by such devices? “No man (says our Divine teacher) putteth a piece of a new garment “upon an old,” (Luke 5:36). And yet his disciples are for patching up the garment of their own righteousness (which the prophet, in his nervous manner of expression, calls filthy rags,) (Isa. 64:6), with a piece of the robe of Christ; whose coat “without seam, woven from the top throughout,” (John 19:23), in the days of his flesh, was beautifully emblematical of the complete righteousness of his person, as necessary to the covering, or justification, of the sinner! And like the Jews of old, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they cannot submit themselves unto the righteousness of God,” (Rom. 10:3). By these and the like deceptions, arising from one fatal cause, the inveterate pride and corruption of our fallen nature, multitudes in all ages (and God only knows how many in the present hour) have been miserably blinded.

To cure the mind of this disease by opening the understanding to proper apprehensions of the high dig­nity of Christ, the riches of his grace, and the poor estate and unworthiness of the sinner, is the sole work of the Holy Ghost. And the process of grace by which it is accomplished, corresponds to exigencies which call for it. By convincing the heart of sin, the utter inability of man to do anything towards his own salvation, is fully shown; and by explaining the infinite merits of the Redeemer’s death, it appears that he hath by that “one offering for ever perfected them that are sanctified,” (Heb. 10:14). When these things are explained by the blessed Spirit of truth, then all the leading doctrines of the gospel appear to the apprehension in their just and proper characters. Then is it seen how that “Jesus was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification,” (Rom. 4:25). And that “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous.” And as “by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of One, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” (Rom. 5:18-19). “He hath purchased our peace through the blood of his cross,” (Col. 1:20). And “of God is made to us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,” (1 Cor. 1:30). In the contemplation of all which, the prophet thus exults, in that strain of animation recorded in his prophecies; “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteous­ness and strength; even to Him shall men come, and all that are incensed against Him shall be ashamed,” (Isa. 45:24).

But on this topic I need not enlarge. If “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed,” under this part of his gracious work, your own ideas will best ex­plain the method by which the blessed Spirit hath illustrated these divine truths to the heart. In “the anointing which ye have received of him, ye need not that any man teach you,” (1 John 2:27). Suffer me only to recommend to you the frequent examination of yourselves by this infallible evidence. If the Holy Ghost has been your instructor, you will have learned that Christ is the sole Author and Finisher of salvation, and that “ye are complete in him,” (Col. 2:10). And though you may not as yet have attained strength in this principle, neither are already perfect; not having yet “cast off the covering of sackcloth, nor received the garment of praise;” yet going on “in the strength of the Lord God, and making mention of his righteousness only,” it is promised, that “he that holdeth on his way shall be stronger and stronger,” (Job 17:9). Your faith may not be equal to that of the noble Centurion, or to that of the woman of Canaan; yet if the misgivings of the mind should at any time suggest the proving in­quiry of the Lord, “Believest thou that I can do this?” you may at least be able to reply, like the poor man to whom it was first proposed, “Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief,” (Mark 9:24). Every believer, indeed, hath reason to adopt the apostle’s prayer, “Lord, in­crease our faith.” But it should be remembered, that the grain of mustard-seed contains in embryo all the future branches of the tree. And in the possession of this gift of the Holy Spirit, you may give answer, as the disciples did, to the affectionate question of the Master, when he had sent them forth to preach the gospel, with apparently but small provision for their journey; “Lacked ye any thing?” And they said, “Nothing, Lord,” (Luke 22:35). Nothing, indeed, can the soul be truly said to want, who hath found Him, “of whom Moses and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth;” and is convinced, not from the testimony of others, but from his own personal knowledge, that “he is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world,” (John 4:42).

The fourth evidence which I have to notice, of the agency of the blessed Spirit in the heart, and by which a satisfying answer to the question in the text may be obtained, is that most important instance of it, regenera­tion; on which Christ lays so much stress as an indis­pensable condition for an entrance into his kingdom. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the king­dom of God,” (John 3:3).

I have stated this of regeneration, as an evidence of having received the Holy Ghost, for the child of God to take comfort in; and here, by way of order, have called it the fourth; but in fact, it is the first work of God the Holy Ghost, before which there can neither be conviction of sin; nor repentance; nor faith in Christ.

This doctrine of regeneration, the production of which is among the highest acts of the Holy Ghost, and in the possession of which the great Author of Chris­tianity places his whole system, as to its practical influence on the minds of believers, is of all others, such as the preachers of the Divine word are least competent to describe. I cannot, by any form of words, explain the mode by which this sacred operation is carried on in the soul. Neither the time when, nor the manner how, the work is performed, are known to the world. Who shall describe, indeed, that wonderful process, by which a spirit of grace is conveyed into the mind? Who shall discern the channel by which God enters the heart? But the fact itself is not less certain for our dullness or inability of perception. In that memorable conversation which our blessed Lord held with the Jewish ruler upon the subject, he has made use of a beautiful figure by way of illustration. “Marvel not (says Christ) that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit,” (John 3:8). The most learned of men have never yet been able, by all their investigations, to account for the origin of winds; where the storm is first engendered, how it is kept up, and where its retreat is, when it subsides. No hypothesis has been equal to this discovery. All that is known of it is, what Christ hath said, “thou hearest the sound thereof;” and that it cometh and goeth. And the man at the plough, as well as the philosopher, is able to discern the same. In like manner, the Spirit of grace in the heart of man, like the unknown source of the air, “bloweth where it listeth:” its gracious presence is known only by its effects. But if there be certain marks, by which that presence may be traced; if (for example) you perceive a thorough change wrought upon any man in his whole character, and he who before lived a life of sense and appetite, as without Christ and with­out God in the world, is become a new creature; “hath put off (as the apostle speaks) concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and is renewed in the spirit of his mind; and hath put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” (Eph. 4:22): why may we not from hence infer, that the spirit of grace hath taken place in him, when Scripture speaks so decidedly upon it? That there is a change accom­plished in the conduct is certain; and why should it be thought incredible that it proceeded from God? Though His ways and works are dark as the secrets of the deep to us, yet by their effects we may, in a great measure, trace them to their source. And as the principles of spiritual life, which distinguish the children of God from the children of the world, are drawn with such accuracy by the sacred writers, there can be no danger of our being led into error or delusion, while we accept the rule they have given us as the standard of decision. “In this (says the apostle) the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever is born of God, sinneth not. Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God,” (1 John 3:9-10). Very clear and strong definitions these, of the different characters represented; and sufficient attestations at the same time do they af­ford to the certainty of the doctrine.

I shall take up no more of your time in the induc­tions of proofs to the truth of regeneration, but rather desire you to look into your heart for the evidences of its reality. “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed” in these decisive and unerring marks of a new birth? Has any change taken place in the disposi­tion of our minds and the conduct of our life, since we entered into being; or do we remain the same we ever were, with respect to the objects of our pursuits and af­fections? Have we the same tempers, the same habits, the same indifference and inattention to holy things, as distinguish men of the world from sincere lovers of God; or “are we renewed in the spirit of our mind?” In a word, “are we followers of God as dear children: walking in love, as Christ also hath loved us: delighting in the law of God after the inward man;” and manifesting a spirit of grace in all the departments of duty?

In your serious investigation of these points, let me caution you against resting satisfied with a superficial examination. Imagine not, that any and every altera­tion, which may have taken place in your conduct, is an evidence of the new birth. Changes are perpetually occurring in the sentiments and manners of men of no religion, from the vicissitudes of life, from an alteration of time and circumstances, and from mere worldly and prudential motives; all which are perfectly distinct things from the spiritual operations of grace in the soul, and are the effects of very opposite causes. Many from the love of reputation, from the dread of shame, from a regard to bodily health or temporal welfare; from a respect for man, or from fear of God, have been re­strained from sinful courses, and have taken up a prin­ciple of reform. Hence sots, have become sober, and libertines chaste. But these are easily discernible from the renewed nature wrought by the Spirit of grace. Where “the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost,” (Rom. 5:5), there will be a change of the whole character. Not only in the more immediate seasons of devotion, but in all the departments both of social and active life; in all the transactions between man and man, as well as the duties towards God; a train of uniform behavior, corresponding to that divine prin­ciple, will pervade and influence the whole man in his disposition and conduct.

Shall I then once more entreat you who read these lines, (and in terms of earnestness suited to the im­portance of the occasion), to examine yourself by these discriminating characters on this grand point of inquiry, which every Christian should make, and the testimony he should give concerning himself; whether “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” The evidences of it you ought not to be a stranger to. “The world, indeed, may know you not, because it knew him not,” (1 John 3:1). In this respect it is not unlike the hidden manna, which “no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it,” (Rev. 2:17). But surely the soul, which is fed and sustained by it from day to day, can­not but know from whence he derives the principle of spiritual life. If then, O Christian, whoever thou art, in whom, upon examination, the real testimonies of this divine life appear, to thee the prophet speaks in these animating words: “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Thy sun shall no more go down, neither shall thy moon withdraw itself, for the Lord shall be thy everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry, place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” And in allusion to the same auspi­cious events, in a strain of the same beautiful imagery, the Redeemer himself is represented as comforting his church. “Lo, the winter will soon be past; the rain will be over and gone; the flowers will appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds will come, and the voice of the turtle will be heard in the land.”

A fifth evidence, whereby the reception of the Holy Ghost in the heart may be known, is founded “in the love of the brethren.” And small and inconsiderable as this may seem, and is, indeed, compared with the other more important proofs, which have passed in review, yet it is not without its peculiar value among the testi­monies of regeneration. Many humble souls have been sustained and comforted in a dark and disconsolate hour, from the possession of this abiding principle; when every other evidence of the blessed Spirit’s operations hath for awhile seemed to have forsaken them. But in all sea­sons they have been able to adopt the apostle’s senti­ments, and to receive from it a good hope through grace.

“We know (says he) that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren,” (1 John 3:14).

In desiring you to search for this testimony of the Spirit in your heart, I am here again concerned to cau­tion you against a misapprehension, which may be made of this doctrine. It should be remembered, that it is the “love of the brethren,” peculiarly distinguished from the “love of the world,” which is here spoken of as an evidence of the spiritual life. There is an universal love of all men, as fellow-creatures and as men, participating in one common nature, and which is the affection of humanity, and may be felt by sinners as well as by saints. Heathens and publicans, our Lord tells us, possess this kind of benevolence towards each other, and sometimes, indeed, in a very eminent degree. But then this is what may be called an unsanctified humanity; extending only to the concerns of this perishing life, and in which the important objects of the next are disregarded. Not so is even the affection which the true believer carries in his bosom, to the whole race of men; for while he earnestly desires and studies to promote their temporal interests, his grand aim is to forward, if possible, their eternal concerns. And whilst manifesting, in a general benevolence of character, his wishes for their present peace, his prayers are continually offered up for their future happiness. But all this is short, far short indeed, of what the apostle referred to as an evidence of regene­ration. The love of the brethren is yet a more peculiar, a more endearing, a more intimate union of affection and regard. The one is the general love of benevolence towards our fellow-creatures of the human race; the other, is the tender relation between “fellow-heirs of the kingdom,” (Eph. 3:6), and fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” (Eph. 2:19), united in the holy bands of Christian fellowship and love. It is the love of the brethren, therefore, as brethren, which the apostle speaks of as the testimony of spiritual life. It is that unity which is represented in Scripture, under a great variety of images, to denote the connec­tion of Christ with his people, of them with him, and with each other. He, as the vine, and they the branches, (John 15:6). He, as the “chief corner-stone,” and they “the building,” (Eph. 2:20). He, as the “head, from whom all the body by joints and bands hath nou­rishment ministered and knit together,” (Col. 2:19); and they, the “members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” (Eph. 5:30). All which is intended to intimate how very near is that connection and unity of heart, which true believers have with each other, when they are really and virtually engrafted into their living Head. However divided in the world and separated by distant seas and climes; though they have never seen the face of one another in the flesh, and will not per­sonally be known to each other, until they meet in glory; yet are they united in the best and most durable of all relations, in the mystical body of Christ their Lord.

If, then, you would consult your heart for the testi­mony of regeneration by this mark, which the apostle hath stated in the love of the brethren, let it be done, I beseech you, by these unequivocal characters. Do you love the brethren as brethren; children of the same Father; followers of the same Redeemer; regenerated by the same Spirit; and heirs of the same promises? You may recollect that to the giver of a cup of cold water the promised reward of the Master was held forth, when it should be given to any one of his followers in “the name of a disciple,” (Matt. 10:42); do you then feel such an interest in all their concerns, to whom this character properly belongs, as on that account, not to refuse them any needful assistance or refreshment? Do you “rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep;” tenderly sympathizing in all their sor­rows with the distressed members of Christ, however distinguished or however diversified they may be? And could you, if it became necessary, in testimony of the faith, imitate the conduct of Moses, “who chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season?” (Heb. 11:25). In a word, though every principle of nature and religion tends to enforce that benevolent precept, “as we have oppor­tunity let us do good unto all men;” yet hath the Spirit of grace enabled you to act from a principle of faith and love, in conformity to the apostle’s illustration of it, in the especial discharge of these duties, “to them who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10). In the examination of the heart under these discriminating par­ticulars, you will be competent to judge respecting this testimony also, whether “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed.” And as the possession of such an evidence is at times attended with peculiar satis­faction in the breast of the true believer, when others may be less manifest, so on the other hand, there cannot be a more decisive and infallible proof that a man is not in a state of a grace, when he can discover in himself no traces of this principle. “For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 6:20). “Every one that loveth Him (that is God) that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him,” (1 John 5:1). “But he that loveth not his brother abided in death,” (1 John 3:14).

I shall take notice but of one testimony more by which an opinion may be justly formed concerning the grand question in the text: (and I shall mention it only in a very cursory way, having already far exceeded the limits originally intended): I mean the evidence derived from that holy superiority with which a true believer passes through the world, neither immoderately attached to life, nor anxiously apprehensive of the approach of death; but in every state displaying the uniform conduct of the Christian, who lives and walks by the faith of a glorious immortality.

If the reasons for the extreme love of life, and the immoderate fear of death, were but analyzed, they would both be found to originate in one and the same fatal cause, which the apostle hath marked with this pointed emphasis, “the sting of death is sin,” (1 Cor. 15:50). It is this which makes men cowards. This sharpens the deadly wound. For what should otherwise induce the weary hireling, in the evening of life, to lament the lengthening shadows of approaching night, and dread the close of day? What should make the weather-beaten traveler look back with a wishful eye, to renew, if it were possible, the journey he has trod, though checkered with a thousand ills, and every part of it marked with sorrow? What but a sense of sin, and a dread of some­what to succeed the commission of it? Like the first unhappy transgressor, when once the consciousness of his rebellion and disobedience had taken possession of his breast, the voice of the Lord God, which before had been his highest solace and delight, then became his greatest dread and apprehension of consequences, for he sought to hide himself from the Divine presence amidst the trees of the garden. The same apostasy hath induced similar effects on the minds of all his posterity. There is an horror in death, not only as it is a departure from the world, but more particularly in the prospect of appearing before a justly offended Creator, who will take strict cognizance of human actions: so that the internal feelings of all hearts in an unrenewed state, if expressed to God in the contemplation of these things, would be in such language as this: “Depart from us, for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways!” (Job 21:14).

But when once “the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, old things are past away, and all things are become new,” (2 Cor. 5:17). The concerns of this life, and the great objects of another, then appear to the true believer in their proper charac­ters, and claim their separate and just regard. He walks through the world with that wise indifference to the things of it, which influences him as a pilgrim, travelling home to the possession of what he holds to be infinitely more dear and valuable than anything which this earth can afford. Everything he meets with, as he passes on, however pleasant to the mind, or how grateful soever to the senses, occupies but a secondary place in his esteem. And while men of the world live only in the spirit, ways, and pursuits of it, and embrace its enjoyments as their supreme good, the renewed Chris­tian is sending his affections on before him, and breathing after immortality. At the time that others attach them­selves to the vanities around them, as if they were to be united to them forever, he is daily weaning himself from all connections here below, and even the most harmless enjoyments hang loose upon him, like the Prophet’s mantle, ready to be thrown off, and that with­out regret, whenever occasion shall render it necessary. Thus prosecuting the path of life, neither distinguished by an apathy to it, unbecoming a dutiful submission to the Divine will, nor impatient under suffering, nor anxious to be gone one moment before the time appointed, he manfully perseveres through all the changes of the world, in a cheerful and conscientious discharge of all its duties. Perfectly satisfied that both himself and all his concerns are in the hands of One who cannot pos­sibly mistake, and will not suffer anything to deprive his faithful people of their happiness in Him; he makes an entire resignation of all he is and has to the disposal of infinite Wisdom. And whether life be long or short, whether spent in prosperous or adverse circumstances, he views every situation, when sanctified by grace, as ministering to his eternal welfare. “All things shall work together for good to them that love God,” (Rom. 8:26). Both in life and death this is his never-failing maxim: “to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” (Phil. 1:21). Hence, upon all occasions, he experiences the love of Christ, “and that peace of God which pass­eth knowledge, keeping the heart and mind through Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:7).

As this then is among the distinguishing qualities in the character of all “who walk by faith and not by sight,” (2 Cor. 5:7), you may very easily determine by this operation also of the blessed Spirit, whether “you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed.” When the apostle Paul, for himself and his compa­nions in the Gospel, declared that these effects were manifested in their whole conduct, and particularly that they “were willing to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,” he ascribes them to the mi­nistry of the Holy Ghost. “He that hath wrought us (says he) for this self-same thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit,” (2 Cor. 5:5). The question is, Can you adopt the same sentiments? Are you in possession of the same principles? Are you “willing rather to be absent from the body, to be pre­sent with the Lord?” and do you labor that “whether present or absent you may be accepted of Him?” (2 Cor. 5:8-9). If so, you will have learned the happy art which none but a true believer can acquire, in what manner you ought to stand affected to both worlds; neither too much attached to the one, nor regardless of the other; but resolving with the apostle, that “Christ shall be magnified in your body, whether it be by life or by death,” (Phil. 1:20). “For whether you live, you live unto the Lord; or whether you die, you die unto the Lord: whether you live therefore, or die, you are the Lord’s,” (Rom. 14:8).

I have now set before you some of the evidences of a spiritual life, in the application of which to your own heart by a serious examination, you may, under the influence of Divine Grace, be enabled to ascertain your religious character, and answer very satisfactorily the important question in the text, “Whether you have received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” I hope however that I shall not be misunderstood, from what hath been offered upon this subject, as if I meant to imply that these testimonies, and no other, are the only criteria or distinguishing marks of the believer’s cha­racter. I do not presume to circumscribe the operations of grace within such limits. Neither do I attempt to state, in what proportion or measure the several qualities I have enumerated are necessary to constitute the rege­neration of the heart. These are points which I humbly leave unattempted to explore. I am verily persuaded, that some one or other of the effects of the Divine operations, which I have noticed, are essential, more or less, to the purposes of salvation: and that where none of them are manifested, there can be no doubt but that the life of grace is not begun in the soul.

And now, in conclusion, I have only to recommend what hath been said to your most serious consideration. You see the strong and unanswerable evidences on which the doctrine of the person, Godhead, and ope­rations of the blessed Spirit is founded; and you clearly perceive also, I trust, in what a train of the most im­portant circumstances, through his gracious ministry exercised on our nature, those operations involve, us. The subject would afford large room for a particular application to the several characters which make up human life. For while it affects our people in every point of view in which a matter so highly awful and interesting can be supposed to affect them, and which would take many pages to describe: a volume might be filled with instructions as it concerns the ministers only, in the sacred departments of their duty. If the spi­ritual life of every believer must originate from this Divine Being: if all “the preparations in the heart of man are from the Lord,” (Prov. 16:1); and “no one knoweth even what to pray for as he ought,” (Rom. 8:26); and the consciousness of these truths plead with the Lord’s people for a continual dependence and waiting upon the Holy Spirit: how infinitely solemn must be his situation, superadded to the personal duties of the individual, who is called upon to the exercise of a public ministry! And what a sanctity of conduct, what a purity of character, what humble and devout attendance upon the teachings of the Holy Ghost, may be expected to distinguish those who minister in sacred things! And with what jealousy will all the faithful servants of the Lord watch over their own souls, parti­cularly while “the people seek the law at their mouth,” (Mal. 2:7), that they may not deceive them “with sparks of their own kindling,” (Isa. 50:11); but wait for the Divine help, and until a similar effect to the prophet’s be felt, in the seraph’s touching the lips, with “a live coal from the holy altar,” (Isa. 6:6), by which they will avoid the awful visitation which the sons of Aaron experienced in their ministration; when unsanc­tified with the holy fire divinely kindled, “they offered strange fire before the Lord,” and were consumed in his presence, (Lev. 10:1).

But I presume not to instruct those from whom I might better learn. Leaving this description to their own superior understanding, with the humblest suppli­cations that the grace of that Almighty Being, whose operations we have been in part reviewing, may accom­pany and bless their ministry; I would turn to offer one word of exhortation to such as my province more parti­cularly directs me to regard.

You, my aged fathers, whose trembling steps too plainly indicate the period to be near approaching, “when the eye that now seeth you will see you no more,” (Job 7:8); say, what testimony can you give to the truth of what hath now been delivered? Oh! it is “high time for you surely to awake out of sleep, for now is your salvation nearer than when you believed. The night is far spent, the day, the eternal day, is at hand,” (Rom. 13:11-12). Another hour or two, and Jesus, the Morning Star, may appear, (Rev. 22:16). Say then, are your evidences bright and shining? Are you prepared to drop the mortal vestments, and to put on the robes of immortality and glory? As the props of your earthly tabernacle are taking down, one by one, can you look forward with the holy confidence of the apostle, and say with him, “We know, that if our earthly house be dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Nor think, you that are young in years, and strong in life, that there is less occasion for admonishing you also, to be wise betimes unto salvation. The duties of the present state are proportioned to the power of action; and those of today are doubled if neglected until the morrow. And with what an accumulated force ought this consideration to affect you, when you consider moreover, with due attention, that your time of ability is not only short and proportioned to your labor, but uncertain also. The next day, or the next hour, may put an end to all opportunities forever. Time is impa­tient to draw the sum total of every man’s life, and to write his monument in the dust. Answer the question then, which I beseech you to put to your own heart, you that are in the prime of your existence, how is your account now standing, should the “Judge be at the door?” (Jam. 5:9).

With respect to those who are conscious that they continue in the same state of an unrenewed nature, as at their first entrance into being; unawakened, and un­concerned about it, I want words to express their situa­tion and their danger. Figure to yourself the most alarming instances of distress the human mind can con­ceive. Suppose a man walking blindfold on the edge of a precipice; or another amusing himself in gathering pebbles on the shore, with the tide surrounding him on every side; or another sleeping on the top of a mast in a tempestuous sea: yet these are all situations of safety compared to the state of him who is hastening on to the close of life, without a thought of preparation for eternity! is ignorant of the corruptions of his nature; unconscious of his want of a Redeemer, and a total stranger to all the operations of Divine Grace in the heart! “Oh! that men were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end,” (Deut. 32:29).

But for you whom God in mercy hath awakened from these mortal slumbers, as you can never sufficiently admire and adore the riches of His grace, so neither can you sufficiently endeavor to improve them. Never lose sight, I beseech you then, of these unspeakable mercies. “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged,” (Isa. 51:1). And Oh! while viewing the divine hand, as stretched forth with such freedom of grace, and such unmerited favor to save; how must the question burst forth involuntarily from the soul of every awakened believer, as it did from the astonished disciple: “Lord! how is it that Thou hast manifested Thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:23). How indeed shall such a distinguished act of sovereign grace be acknowledged, or ever repaid! “Go on then in the strength of the Lord God, and make mention of his righteousness only,” (Ps. 71:16). And while pro­secuting the path of duty with such holy caution as becometh saints, and continually praying for an increase of grace, and that you may abound more and more in the fruits thereof, forget not to drop a petition for them, who are too careless and unconcerned to pray for them­selves, that “God may give them also repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified,” (Acts 20:32). “And may God himself, and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, make you increase and abound more and more in love one towards another, and toward all men, to the end that he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness,” (1 Thess. 3:11-13).

To the Eternal Father, to the untreated Word, and the Eternal Spirit, Three Divine Persons in One and the same Essence, be ascribed all possible glory, might, and praise, throughout all ages, forever. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1 Perhaps, among the causes which have operated to this self-decep­tion, none of them hath tended more to induce a laxity of attention to the solemn declarations of Scripture concerning the Divine displeasure against sin, than what hath arisen from this deceitful and dangerous opinion of sincerity. It is a favorite notion, which hath of late years crept in, and (chiming so exactly with the wishes of the corrupt heart) hath formed a very conspicuous figure in the system of our modern divinity, that this law of sincerity is intended to answer for our imperfect obedience to the law of God; and since man is confessedly not equal to the one, Divine Goodness will accept of the other. A doctrine which, if true, would subvert every principle of religion; and not only under­mine the gracious truths of the gospel, but, by proving a mutability in the revealed will, highly dishonor God, and leave mankind in ignorance of the proper method of serving him. It would carry me too far from the immediate object I am engaged in the pursuit of, to produce all the reasons which demonstrate the fallacy of such an opinion. But, indeed, without going into the minutiae of the argument, a single consideration will be enough to refute it.

The apostle hath admirably defined the nature of human offences, when he said, that “sin is the transgression of the law,” (1 John 3:4). Now a law given implies that some penalty is annexed to any breach of it. So, that the law of God once broken, necessarily exposes the transgressor to the threatened punishment. Even in human laws this is the case. Suppose, for example, that I was clearly proved guilty of a single crime, to the commission of which the law had appointed certain punish­ment, it would be in vain for me to plead, that in all the other parts of conduct I had sincerely acted, and lived up to the obedience of the law. Nay, if I could make it appear that my whole life had been spent, ex­cept in this one instance, in doing good; this, though it might tend to recommend me as an object more worthy of compassion, could make no alteration in the crime itself, of which I had been fully convicted. Either, therefore, I must suffer the just sentence of the law, or the law must be broken to accommodate itself to my situation. Now this is precisely the state of the case respecting the law of God, only, indeed, with this vast abatement in the atrocity of sin, when viewed as com­mitted against man, from what it is when perpetrated against God. For, it is not in one, but in innumerable instances, the best of men have violated his righteous decrees, and rendered themselves obnoxious to his just punishment. And with respect to the extenuation of the sins of life by a contrary conduct, few, if any, have aught to plead before their Maker for a single virtue, if that virtue, with the motives of it, were to be analyzed. So much allowance is to be taken out for situation, for ability, for the power of action given to one more than to another, that if human goodness were to be ascertained in a proper crucible, the resi­duum would be found little indeed! To return, then, to our argument. The law of God solemnly and unalterably decrees that death is the sure consequence of sin. “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” The same law of obedience, and the same penalty to disobedience, which was held forth to the first sinner in the Garden of Eden, hath been invariably held forth to all sinners ever since. In the law of Moses, and in the gospel of Christ, the doctrine is the same. It stands in full force, unaltered and unrepealed. And will any man venture to think that the law is broken by the introduction of the gospel? Merciful Redeemer! what a most awful proof hast thou given in thy agonies and cross, of the immutability of the divine law, when such sufferings were sustained in thy sacred person, to show that a broken law could not otherwise be atoned for. And is it possible, with such an alarming instance before our eyes, and with the solemn declarations of the word of God in our hands, that men can so slightingly talk of the law of God, and suppose that a law of sincerity is established in its stead? Is not this actually charging theFather with capriciousness, in having once promulgated his will, and now relaxing in his demands of it? Is it not also robbing the Great Redeemer of everything dear in his name or valuable in his ministry, if, when for the salvation which he hath wrought with so much personal labor and suffering as he underwent, he only intended after all to co­operate with our sincerity? And are not all the gracious acts of the Holy Ghost, in convincing the heart of sin, and sanctifying our corrupt nature, become nugatory and unavailing, when man’s sincerity is sub­stituted among the means of salvation?

Such notions can only proceed from inattention to the revealed word of God, and to the want of the enlightening grace of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Men may talk of a law of sincerity as long as they please, but it is all human invention, unauthorized by revelation, and contrary to every idea of an unchangeable God. Before such doctrines are pro­mulgated in the world, it would be becoming in the patrons of them to point out in what part of the Bible they are to be found. I defy any man to produce a single passage, where it is said or intimated, that God hath repealed his original law, and declared that he will accept of our sincerity in the room of unsinning obedience. He hath, indeed, (glory to his holy name), appointed a means of salvation for sinners, in the astonishing scheme of the death of his Divine Son. But surely the very death of Christ becomes the most decided proof of his irreconcilable hatred to sin, and speaks by every agony which our Lord sustained in the accomplishment of it, that the breach of his law cannot pass with impunity. For when “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” it was, we are told, in “being made a curse for us,” (Gal. 3:13). “God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).

It were to be wished, therefore, that the advocates of such opinions would coolly and seriously consider these things. And recollect, more­over, that the same argument of sincerity might be brought in extenua­tion of half the errors of life. The Jews who crucified Christ, as well as Saul who persecuted his followers, would all plead their sincerity; they, as well as he, no doubt, would say, that they “verily thought that they ought to have done many things contrary to the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” (Acts 26:9). And under such circumstances, if the plea was once admitted, we might expect to see, at the judgment-scat of Christ, mankind generally approved, instead of “the whole world becoming guilty before God.” May these considerations be sanctified by Divine grace to the great end hereby intended, that no man, may seek shelter for himself under the persuasion, or what is yet worse, teach others, that the law of sincerity is the law of God; for this will awfully verify our Lord’s declaration, “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch,” (Matt. 15:14). Back to text

2 From a conviction that this doctrine of repentance is not so gene­rally understood in the sense of Scripture as it ought, but even among sincere Christians, advanced in the path of the true spiritual life, erro­neous opinions are sometimes entertained concerning it, I am induced to add, by way of note, (to what hath been already offered in proof of this principle being the gift of the Holy Spirit) that though repentance be among the essential duties of the Gospel, yet it is not among the efficient means of salvation. Overlooking the sole cause of this divine blessing, which is in the free gift of God through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord, some have been led to suppose, that faith and repent­ance, and a new life, are the conditional terms on the part of man for partaking of the rich mercies of redemption. But this is a mistaken apprehension, for want of attending more closely to the sense of Scrip­ture. A real Christian would be much hurt if it was suggested to him that he thought his righteousness and good deeds became profitable unto God, or were admitted as a part in the cause of his justification before him. But yet in effect every believer entertains sentiments simi­lar to this, when he supposes that his faith and repentance are so many helps towards it. For the truth is, neither the one nor the other are any more the efficient means of obtaining eternal salvation than morality or good works. “It is by grace (says the apostle) that ye are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” (Eph. 2:8). It is all therefore a gift, a free gift, and there can be no more merit or value in one quality than in another. The ability of perform­ing either comes from God; and therefore it cannot be supposed, that what is first given can afterwards be brought forward as our own. And indeed were we to suppose it possible that man could produce an atom, cooperating with his Redeemer in the means of obtaining mercy, from that moment we should rob Christ of his honor; and every virtue which now, by being wrought by Divine Grace, reflects back the praise unto Him to whom alone it is due, for imparting the ability of performing it, would then derogate from his free gift of unmerited salvation, and become a diminution of the Redeemer’s glory. It is therefore the peculiar excellency of the blessed Gospel, “that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” (Rom. 11:29). Nothing of human worth moving God to such bounty in bestowing them. If it be asked, “What then is faith, and to what purpose serves repentance?” The answer is direct. They are so many seals and testimonies that a spirit of grace has taken place in the soul; evidences that a life of regenera­tion is begun in the believer’s heart. But while we look upon them in this light, as most essential principles, we cannot, we dare not indeed, consider them as among the means of salvation. Though indispensable duties, they are not efficient operations. The great work of man’s re­demption is wholly accomplished by “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all,” (Heb. 10:10). And therefore “of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to Him be glory for ever. Amen,” (Rom. 11:36). I thought it proper to state this doctrine as it appears in Scripture, and shall be happy if these cursory observations serve to explain it to anyone, who may not before have had right notions con­cerning it. Back to text.

Dr. Hawker Index

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