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The Reign of Grace
Of Grace, as it Reigns in Our Effectual Calling
We have seen in the preceding chapter, that grace presided in the eternal counsels, and reigned as an absolute sovereign in the decree of election. Let us now consider the same glorious grace, as exerting its benign influence in the regeneration and effectual calling of all that shall ever be saved. Election makes no alteration in the real state of its objects. For, as they were considered, in that gracious purpose, in a sinful, dying condition; so they continue in that situation, till the energy of the Holy Spirit, and the power of evangelical truth, reach their hearts. The means being decreed as well as the end, it is absolutely necessary, to accomplish the great design of election, that all the chosen in their several generations, should be born of the Spirit and converted to Jesus; called of God, and bear his image.
That important change which takes place in the mind and views of a sinner, when converted to Christ, is frequently signified in the infallible word, by being called of God; called by grace; called by the gospel. In performing this work of heavenly mercy, the eternal Spirit is the grand agent, and evangelical truth the honored instrument. Are men, in their natural state, considered as asleep in sin and dead to God—when they are called, their minds are enlightened, and spiritual life is communicated. The Spirit of God, speaking to the conscience by the truth, quickens the dead sinner, shows him his awful state, and alarms his fears. The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live—Awake thou that sleepest. Are they considered as having departed from God, and at a distance from him; in the way of destruction, yet afraid to return—then the language of the gospel is, Return to the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. Such a revelation of grace being made in the gospel, and such invitations being addressed to perishing sinners, the Spirit of truth in effectual calling gives them encouragement from these declarations to return to God, and enables them to look for salvation from the hand of Him against whom they have sinned, and from whom they have so deeply revolted. Such, in a general view, is the nature of that heavenly blessing which is the subject of our present inquiry.
That any sinner is called out of darkness into marvellous light, is entirely owing to divine grace. God called me by his grace, is the language of Paul; nor do the saints ascribe their conversion to any other cause. Man, being by nature dead in sin, unacquainted with its evil, and elated with a fond conceit of his own abilities; looks upon his offences against God, rather as pitiable failings than shocking crimes. He extenuates his faults, and magnifies his duties. He depreciates the work of Christ, and relies on his own supposed good performances. Being entirely ignorant of his moral weakness, the total corruption of his nature, and the extensive demands of divine law; he endeavors, if at all concerned about his soul, to establish his own righteousness, as the principal ground of his acceptance with the high and holy God. He trusts in some general mercy, to be exercised toward him through Jesus Christ, to make up the deficiencies attending his own sincere attempts to perform his duty. In case of a relapse into open and scandalous offences, he flatters himself with the hopes of pardon, and of having an interest in the love of God, if he do but forsake his past transgressions, be sorry for them, and amend his ways for the future. This, he thinks, is the obvious and easy way of placating an offended God, and of obtaining the divine favor. On such a sandy foundation are the hopes of men commonly built. Thus we lie, asleep in sin, and dreaming of happiness; on the verge of a dreadful precipice, yet inapprehensive of danger, till reigning grace exerts her influence to recover us from our native ruin.
But when the Spirit of God convinces of sin by the holy law, and manifests its extensive demands to the conscience of a sinner; when he is informed that every sin subjects the offender to a dreadful curse; then his fears are alarmed and his endeavors are quickened. Being aroused from his spiritual slumber, he is more earnest and punctual in the performance of religious duties, in endeavors after holiness, and in the pursuit of happiness. He is not content with that careless and superficial way of performing devotional services, which before satisfied his conscience and gratified his pride. For now, guilt burdens his soul, and conscience sharpens her sting; while the terrors of the Almighty seem to be set in array against him. The duties he has neglected, the mercies he has abused, and the daring acts of rebellion he has committed against his divine Sovereign, crowd in upon his mind and rack his very soul. The justice of the Lawgiver appears ready to vindicate the law, as holy and good; and, like an incensed adversary, unsheathes the sword and makes a loud demand for vengeance. In such a situation, he cannot but earnestly seek to escape impending ruin. But yet, his heart being deeply leavened with legal pride, and unacquainted with the divine righteousness, he labors to obtain salvation, as it were, by the works of the law. When, by the Spirit and word of truth, he is further made sensible of his natural depravity, and of the defects attending his best performances; when he considers how very imperfect they shall appear in his own eye, and that a perfect righteousness is absolutely necessary to his acceptance with the eternal Judge; then his hopes of salvation by his own obedience vanish, and his apprehensions of eternal punishment increase. Thus, when the law comes, shining in its purity and operating on his conscience with power, sin is revived; a sense of deserved wrath possesses the soul, and his former self-righteous hopes expire.
He now reflects on his past ignorance and pharisaic pride, with the greatest amazement and the deepest self-abhorrence. However reluctant, he is obliged to give up his former exalted notions of his own moral excellence; and is compelled, with the polluted leper, to cry, Unclean! unclean! Now he perceives a propriety, now he feels an energy in those emphatical Scripture phrases, which describe the state of a natural man, by a filthy sow wallowing in the mire; by a dog in love with his vomit; and by an open sepulchre emitting the abhorred stench of a putrefying carcass. These objects, he is fully convinced, are infinitely less offensive to the most delicate person and the keenest sense, than that moral pollution is, which, in the sight of an holy God, has defiled his whole soul. Now he freely acknowledges, that what he used to look upon as trivial offences, are shocking crimes. He is thoroughly convinced that the various transgressions of his life, however vile and enormous, are so many streams from a corrupt fountain within; that they proceed from a desperately wicked heart. He is amazed, he is confounded, when he reflects on his inbred corruptions, and views his native depravity. His eyes being opened to behold the spirituality and vast extent of the divine law, he considers his whole life as one continued scene of iniquity. For instead of living every moment of his time in the uninterrupted and most fervent love of God, as the law requires; he finds, to his grief and shame, that he has lived in the love of self and sin; self-love having been his law; self-pleasing all his end. Viewing the holy law as a transcript of divine purity, he plainly sees that he is no less obliged to love God with all the powers of his soul, for the sake of his infinite excellencies, than he is to avoid the horrid crimes of murder and adultery. In a word, he considers himself as the chief of sinners. The sentence of the law, though terrible to the last degree, he allows to be just. The execution of it he cannot but dread; yet from his heart he acquits both the law and the lawgiver of any unrighteous severity, though he never should taste of mercy. His language is, The law is just, and death is my due.
Methinks I behold the awakened sinner, sobbing with anguish and bathed in tears; fixed in thought and indulging reflection about his state and his danger. “The law, how holy, which I have transgressed! the curse, how awful, that I have incurred! My crimes, how numerous! Their aggravations, how dreadful! How ineffably wretched my state! for my soul, my immortal all, is in the utmost jeopardy. What shall I do— Whither shall I flee for refuge? Shall I look for relief to carnal enjoyments and sinful pleasures? Shall I quaff the sparkling bowl, or frequent the circles of polite amusement? Such a procedure would enhance my guilt and increase my torment; would be like seeking an asylum in hell. Shall I plead with my Sovereign and Judge, that I have not been so wicked as others? But how shall I prove the fact? or if I could, the debtor that owes but fifty pence, having nothing to pay, is equally obnoxious to an arrest and a prison, with one that owes five hundred. For Jehovah declares, Cursed is every one that continueth not in ALL things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But have I performed no good works, nor any obedience, from which I may extract some comfort, on which I may build my hope of acceptance—Here, alas, I am entirely destitute. Conscious I am, that I have not loved God, that I have not sought his glory; and without these there is no acceptable obedience. My very prayers need an atonement, and my tears want washing. Shall I promise amendment, and vow reformation, if He, to whom I have forfeited my life, will be pleased to spare it? Shall I say, with him, in the parable that owed ten thousand talents, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all? This would be an evidence of superlative pride, and an instance of the greatest folly. My debt, like his, is enormous; and would my Creator compound for the widow’s two mites, I should still be insolvent. I now find by experience that I am utterly without strength. But supposing I possessed abilities, and were to perform a perfect obedience in future; this would make no amends for my past transgressions: the old and heavy score would still stand against me. Had my offences been committed against a fellow-creature, I might possibly have been able to make compensation. But they are against my Maker; to whom I owe my time and talents; all that I have and all that I am. If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him; or how shall the offender atone for his crime? It is the infinite Jehovah against whom I have sinned: it is the eternal Sovereign of all worlds against whom I have rebelled. Who, then shall entreat for me? Yes, I have trampled on infinite authority. The language of my stubborn heart and abominable conduct has been, Who is the Lord, that I should obey him? As the universal Governor, I have renounced his dominion, and seated self on the throne; as my constant Benefactor, I have abused his mercies to his dishonor. Infinitely perfect and supremely amiable as he is in himself, I have neither loved nor adored him: I have treated him as though he deserved neither affection nor reverence. I have—shocking impiety! —I have preferred the vilest lusts, and the gratification of the worst appetites, to his honor and service. How have I neglected the divine word and sacred worship? I have treated the Bible as if it were not worthy of a serious perusal, and in so doing have been a practical Deist. The assemblies of the saints, my closet, my conscience, all bear testimony against me, that I have lived, as without God in the world. Or, if at any time I have attended religious worship in public or private, how have I mocked my Maker! I have behaved myself in his awful presence, as though he had been a senseless idol; one who neither knew nor cared how he was worshipped. When I pretended to acknowledge my sins, my confessions froze on my formal lips: and if I asked for heavenly blessing, it was as though I had little or no necessity for them. With delight and avidity I have pursued transitory pleasures and vicious enjoyments; but as to the worship of God, I have been ready to cry, O, what a weariness is it! I have said to God, it has been the language of my heart and conduct, Depart from me; for I desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that I should serve him? and what profit shall I have if I pray to him? Can I doubt, then, can I question for a single moment, whether I deserve to die, deserve to be damned—damned! dreadful punishment! Imagination recoils at the thought. The idea chills my blood. Heaven avert the impending, the righteous vengeance! But God is just; and justice requires that sin should not escape with impunity. Does it not follow, then, that my eternal misery is inevitable? In what other way can the rights of the Godhead, the honor of divine holiness, truth, and justice be maintained? If no other way can be found, wretch that I am! I am lost forever.” Thus he lies at the feet of sovereign mercy.
As a rebel against
the Majesty of heaven, and conscious that he deserves to perish, he lies deep in
the dust of self-abasement, and low at the footstool of divine grace. But his
all being at stake for eternity,
and not being sunk into absolute despair, he ventures to address the blessed
God; being well persuaded that if his request be granted and his person
accepted, his soul shall live; and that if his prayer be rejected, and his
person abhorred, he can but die. With trembling hands and a throbbing heart;
with downcast looks and faltering lips, he therefore thus proceeds: “Offended
Sovereign! I am justly under sentence of death, and should I eternally perish,
yet thou art righteous. My mouth must be stopped: I have no right to complain.
But is there nothing in thy revealed character that may encourage a miserable
creature and a guilty criminal, to look for mercy and hope for acceptance? Art
thou not a compassionate Saviour, as well as a just God? Is not Jesus thy only
Son, and hast thou not set him forth as a propitiation through faith in his
blood? To Him, therefore, as my only asylum from divine wrath, I would flee.
Yet if repulsed, I dare not, I cannot object; for I have no claim on thy mercy.
Only, if it seem good to thee to save the vilest of sinners, the most wretched
of creatures; if it please thee to extend infinite mercy to one who deserves
infinite misery, and is obliged to condemn himself, the greater will be the
glory of thy compassion. However, as a supplicant at the throne of grace, as a
perishing sinner who has no hope but in sovereign mercy and in the blood of the
cross, I am resolved to wait until freely received, or absolutely rejected. If
rejected, I must bear it as my just desert; if accepted, boundless grace shall
have the glory. 1
Thus the name and the work of Jesus forbid despair, and shed a beam of hope on his benighted soul.
One would imagine
that the gospel of reigning grace, that the tidings of a free Saviour and a full
salvation, would be embraced with the utmost readiness by a sinner thus
convinced. One would suppose that, so soon as he heard the divine report, he
could not forbear exclaiming, in a transport of joy, “This is the Saviour I
want! This salvation is every way suitable to my condition. Perfect in itself,
and free for the unworthy sinner. Wonderful truth! Astonishing grace! What could
I have, what can I desire more? Here I would rest; in this I will glory.” But
alas! this is not always the case. Observation and experience prove, that the
awakened sinner is frequently backward, exceedingly backward, to receive comfort
from the glorious gospel. This arises, not from any defect in the grace it
reveals, or in the salvation it brings; not because the sinner is under any
necessity, or in any distress, for which it has not provided complete relief;
but because he does not behold the glory of that grace which reigns triumphant
in it, and the design of God, in making such a provision. He wants to find
himself some way distinguished, as a proper object of mercy, by holy
tempers and sanctified affections. This is a bar to his comfort, this is his
grand embarrassment, In other words, he is ready to fear that he is not
sufficiently humbled under a sense of sin; that he has not a suitable abhorrence
of it; or, that he has not those fervent breathings after Christ and holiness
which he ought to have, before he can be warranted to look for salvation with a
well-grounded hope of success. 2
Thus the sinner, even when his conscience is oppressed with guilt, and earnestly desirous of salvation, opposes the true grace of God, by desiring some worthiness of his own. Whence it appears, that the genuine self-denial of the gospel is the hardest sacrifice to human pride.
But grace reigns. The Spirit of truth, a principal part of whose business it is, in the economy of salvation, to testify of Christ and of sovereign mercy by him; still calls the poor alarmed wretch by the gospel. Evidencing to his conscience, not only the all-sufficiency, but also the absolute freeness of the glorious Redeemer. Manifesting that there are no good qualities to be obtained; no righteous acts to be performed, either to gain an interest in him, or to qualify for him. Showing, yet further, that convictions of sin, and a sense of want, are not to be accounted conditions of our acceptance with Christ and salvation by him; nor ought they to be esteemed previously necessary to our believing in him, on any other account, than as a sensibility of our spiritual poverty and wretchedness, renders relief in a way of grace truly welcome. This is needful, not as inclining God to give, but as disposing us to receive. A sinner will neither seek nor accept the great atonement, till sensible that Divine wrath and the damnation of hell are what he deserves; and what, without the propitiation of the adorable Jesus, he must unavoidably suffer.
I take it for granted we must come to Christ under that character by which he calls us. Now, it is evident, he invites us by the name of sinners. As sinners, therefore, miserable, ruined sinners, we must come to him for life and salvation. The gospel of peace is preached to such, and them the gospel calls; even those who are not conscious that they are the objects of any good disposition. Yes, disconsolate sinner, be it known to you, be it never forgotten by you, that the gospel with all its blessings, that Christ with all his fulness, are a glorious provision made by the great Sovereign, and by grace as reigning, for the guilty and the wretched—for such as have nothing of their own on which to rely, and utterly despair of ever being able to do anything for that purpose. The undertaking of Jesus Christ was intended for the relief of such as are ungodly, altogether miserable, and without hope in themselves. Such was the beneficent design of God, and such is the salutary genius of his gospel. Delightful, ravishing truth! enough, one would think, to make the brow of melancholy wear a smile. Let me indulge the pleasing thought, and once more express the charming idea. The blessings of grace were never designed to distinguish the worthy, or to reward merit; but to relieve the wretched and save the desperate. These—hear and rejoice! these are the patentees in the heavenly grant. Yea, they have an exclusive right. For as to all those who imagine themselves to be the better sort of people who depend on their own duties, and plead their own worthiness; who are not willing to stand on a level with publicans and harlots; Christ has nothing to do with them, nor the gospel anything to say to them. As they are too proud to live upon alms, or to be entirely beholden to sovereign grace for all their salvation; so they must not take it amiss if they have not the least assistance from that quarter. They appeal to the law, and by it they must stand or fall.
He, therefore, who believes in Christ, relies on him as the justifier of the ungodly. Nor does he consider himself in any other light, or as bearing any other character, in that very moment when he first believes on him: if he did, he could not believe on him as the justifier of such. The only encouragement a sinner has to apply to Christ for all that he wants, consists—not in a consciousness of being possessed of any pious disposition, of having come up to terms, performed any conditions, or as being any way different from what he was before—but, in that grace which reigns, and is proclaimed in the gospel. Yes; the free declarations of the gospel concerning Jesus, contain a sufficient warrant for the vilest sinner, in the most desperate circumstances, to look for relief at the hand of Christ. Such as, I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance—The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost—Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth—Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest—Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out—Whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.
In these, as in similar passages of holy writ, the sinner is encouraged to look to the Lord Redeemer, with assurance that in so doing he shall not be disappointed; to look to Him; not as one whose character and state are different from those of the world in common; but as a guilty creature and ready to perish. These free declarations are founded on the glorious undertaking and finished work of Christ, who suffered for the unjust; who died for men, while sinners and ungodly; and who reconciled them to God, when they were enemies. So that all things are now ready for the sinner’s enjoyment and happiness; here, in a life of faith and holiness; hereafter, in the fruition of glory. These divine testimonies are only a specimen of what might be produced on the occasion; and they, together with others of the same import, are the proper ground of our faith in Christ, or dependence on him, for everlasting salvation.
Hence it appears, that the sinner who is effectually called of God, is not led by the Holy Spirit to believe in a dying Redeemer under a persuasion of his being now distinguished from his ungodly neighbors and former self; or, in other words, of his being a much better man than he was before, in virtue of any good habits or qualifies; nor does his comfort arise from any such supposed alteration. No: the Divine Spirit does not bear witness to our spirits, concerning our own inherent excellencies, or inform us how much we are superior to others; but, concerning the all-sufficiency, suitableness, and absolute freeness of Christ, and of all the blessings included in his mediation. The basis of a believer’s hope, and the source of his spiritual joy, are—not a consciousness that he has done something toward his own salvation, (call it believing, or what you will,) but the truth he believes and the Saviour on whom he relies: which truth, possessed in the heart, is also the spring of his holiness.
A sinner being brought, under the influence of the blessed Spirit, and by the instrumentality of the gospel, to renounce every false confidence and legal hope, and, as to acceptance with the Most High, to pour contempt on every righteousness which is not in all respects perfect; leans on Christ, as the rock of ages; cleaves to him as the only hope of the guilty, and rejoices in him as able to save to the uttermost all, without exception, who come to God by him. Now a new scene of things opens to his view. He beholds with amazement how God can be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. The just God and the Saviour appear in the same point of light. Now the everlasting covenant unveils its infinite stores to his ravished sight, and the gospel pours its healing balm into his wounded conscience. Jesus Christ, and his righteousness, are now his only hope. He finds a sufficiency in the glorious Immanuel, not only to supply all his wants, but to make him infinitely rich, and eternally happy; and in him he rests completely satisfied. He who, but a little before, stood trembling and confounded at the tribunal of conscience; who could scarcely imagine that God would be righteous if he did not pour out his vengeance upon him; finds the work of the heavenly substitute a full vindication of the rights of justice, and an everlasting foundation for his strongest confidence. This wonderful expedient, so well adapted to glorify God and save the sinner, he beholds with astonishment, and contemplates with rapture. Yes, beholding Grace on the throne, he bows, adores, and rejoices. Gratitude abounds in his heart, and praise flows from his lips.
When he reflects on his present unworthiness and former state, beholding what enmity he cherished in his bosom against his Maker; when he considers how carnal his affections, how stubborn his will, how proud his heart; how often he had, in his conduct, adopted the language of those who say to the Almighty, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; he is amazed that he was not long since transmitted to hell. When he further considers how loath he was to acknowledge Divine sovereignty, and bow to heavenly mercy; how long he resisted the calls of Providence; how often he stifled the remonstrances of conscience; and that, if less than an infinite Agent had been employed in reducing an obstinate rebel to obedience, he had been finally obdurate and eternally miserable—when he thus reflects, he is filled with pleasing astonishment. On a comparison between what his offences deserved, and what God has bestowed, he cannot forbear exclaiming, “What hath God wrought! What a miracle of mercy!” He is convinced to a demonstration, that his calling must be ascribed to reigning grace. He is fully persuaded that God was the first mover in this, as well as in every other blessing bestowed, in every other benefit enjoyed or promised. When he meditates upon his calling, his language is, “I am found of Him, whom I neither loved nor sought. He is manifested to me, after whom I did not inquire.” He will say, “I am known of God; I am apprehended of Christ:” rather than “I know God; I apprehend Christ.” (Luke 15:4,5; Rom. 10:20; Gal. 4:9; Phil 3:12).
Thus to be called of God is an instance of reigning grace, and an evidence of distinguishing love. Happy are you, reader, if you know by experience what it is to be called by grace. If such be your state, it becomes your indispensable duty to walk worthy of your calling, for it is high, holy, heavenly. Yes, believer, your calling is truly noble. You are called out of darkness into marvellous light; and out of worse than Egyptian bondage, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. You are called out of the world, into fellowship with Jesus Christ. Called, you are, out of a state of open rebellion against God, and painful anxiety of mind, into a state of reconciliation and friendship, of conscious peace and heavenly joy. What shall I say? you are called from the slavery of sin, to the practice of holiness; into a state of grace here, and to the enjoyment of glory hereafter. In short, it is the High God that called you; it is the way of holiness in which you are called to walk, and it is an unfading inheritance, all eternal kingdom, you are called to enjoy. Here is your blessedness, and here is your duty. The consideration of these things, as a noble incentive to obedience, should fire your mind with godly zeal; should fill your heart with Christian gratitude; should direct your feet in the paths of duty, and manifest its constraining influence through your whole conduct.
To you that are uncalled, what shall I say? Your state is awful. For, leaving the world in your present situation, you are lost forever; you die to eternity. For none shall be glorified hereafter, but such as are called here. If death should summons you hence, before you are converted to Christ, what will become of you? as dry stubble you must fall into the hands of Him who is a consuming fire. You may entirely neglect the concerns of your soul; you may, for a season, trifle with the affairs of religion, and hear the gospel with a careless indifference; but, if grace should not interpose for your rescue, dreadful will be the issue. The word of God and the gospel of Christ, will be a swift witness against you another day; will be the savour of death unto death to your soul: while God, even God himself, will be your eternal enemy. Consider this, ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.
If you attend on a preached gospel and frequent the house of God, do not take it for granted that you must needs be a Christian, because you make a public profession, and yield a cool assent to the truth. This thousands have done, this you may do, and yet perish forever. If not divorced from the law, if not renewed in your mind and enabled to believe in Christ, as a miserable helpless sinner, it will soon appear that you have only chosen a more decent, though less frequented path, to the regions of darkness; and that you are damned with the single advantage of having left a respectable character amongst our fellow-sinners. A poor compensation this for the loss of an immortal soul, and an awful issue of a religious profession! God grant it may not be the case with my reader!
Nor let any one mistake a set of evangelical notions, received by education, or imbibed under a gospel ministry, for true conversion and faith in the great Redeemer. A mistake here is fatal, and has been the ruin of multitudes. A professor may be wise in doctrine, and able to vindicate the truth against its opposers; while his heart is entirely carnal, cold as ice, and barren as a rock. Though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and have not charity, love to God and love to his people, I am nothing. Vain, then, are the pretensions of all those, whatever knowledge they may have of the gospel, who live in sin, who love not God, nor seek his glory. They may shine in religious conversation; they may display their talents and feed their vanity, by defending truth and refuting error; and, conscious of superior abilities, may look down with a solemn pride on persons of meaner parts and less understanding in the doctrines of grace, but their superior knowledge will only aggravate their future woe, and render damnation itself more dreadful.
1Let none of my readers imagine that the process of conviction here described, is designed as a standard for their experience; or that I would limit the Holy One of Israel to the same way and manner of working on the minds of sinners, when he brings them to know themselves, their state, and their danger. I have no such intention; being well aware that God is a Sovereign, and acts as he pleases in this, as in all other things. For though every sinner must feel his want, before he will either seek or accept relief at the hand of grace; yet the Lord has various ways to make his people willing in the day of his power. Some he enlightens in a more gradual way, and draws them to Christ by gentler means, as it were with the cords of love: while he strikes conviction in the minds of others, as with a voice of thunder, and sudden as a flash of lightning. They are brought to the very brink of despair, and shook, as it were, over the bottomless pit. Nor have we any business to inquire into the reasons of this difference in the Divine conduct. As the Lord saves whom he will, so he may bring them to the knowledge of his salvation, in what way, and by what means he pleases. If any one doubt whether his convictions be genuine, let him remember that the questions he should ask himself, in order to attain satisfaction, are not: “How long did I lie under them? To what a degree of terror, did they proceed? By what means were they wrought!” But, “Does it stand true in my conscience, that I have sinned and deserve to perish? Is it a fact that nothing but the grace of God can relieve me? These are the questions which demand his notice, and a suitable answer solves the query.
Here it should be well observed, that deep distress, arising from the fear of hell, is not required of any, in order to peace with God; for such distress does not belong to the precepts of the law, but to its curse. Terrifying apprehensions of eternal punishment are no part of that which is required of sinners, but of what is inflicted on them. There is indeed an evangelical sorrow for sin, that is our duty; which is commanded, and has promises annexed to it: but legal terrors, proceeding from the curse of the law, not from its precept; expressing a sense of danger from the law, rather than of having done evil against the law; are no marks of love to God, or of an holy temper. An awakened sinner, therefore, wishing for distresses of this kind, is a person seeking the misery of unbelief, that he may obtain a permission to believe. See Dr. Owen on the Holy Spirit, p. 306.
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