Obrazy na stronie

freedom from sinfulness in this prayer, considered by itself, as for salvation, or deliverance from suffering.

That the prayers of unregenerate men are not virtuous, must undoubtedly be admitted: for nothing can be virtuous, which does not proceed from a heart, good in the Evangelical sense. That they are sinful, so far as they are of a moral nature, must also be admitted, at least by me. The declaration of Solomon, that the prayers of the wicked are an abomination, appears to me, together with others of the like import, to be a description of the prayers of wicked men, as they are in their general nature ; and not as the mere cries of a suffering creature for mercy. In these, considered by themselves, I see nothing of a sinful nature. They are not indeed objects of the divine Complacency; and the sinner, who offers them, is clearly an object of the divine anger. But I see no evidence, that the prayers of such a sinner may not be objects of the divine Benevolence, and regarded by the Infinite Mind with compassion. To that compassion only are they addressed. The cries of a profligate vagrant in distress render him more properly, and more intensely, an object of compassion, and more especially entitled to relief, although he is still profligate, from a good man, than he would be, were he to continue insensible and hardened under his sufferings, and thus utterly unfitted to have any proper views of his need of relief, or the kindness of his benefactor in furnishing it. I sce no reason, why God may not regard suffering sinners in a similar manner. That he does, in fact, thus regard them, is, I think, unanswerably evident : Regeneration regularly following such prayers, and being regularly communicated to the subjects of them, in the course of God's Providence, whenever it exists at all. That this is ordinarily, nay, that it is almost always, the fact, cannot, I think, be questioned. All sinners under conviction pray; and of such sinners all converts are made. To convinced sinners, crying to God for mercy, Regeneration is communicated by the Spirit of God; and we are not, I think, warranted to conclude, that it is given to any others. As, then, the whole number of regenerated persons is formed of those, who have been convinced of sin, and who have been diligently employed in prayer, while under conviction; it is plain, that their prayers are not abominable, in such a sense, as to prevent the blessing, prayed for, from descending upon them; and therefore, not in such a sense, as rationally to discourage them from praying.

The prayer of the Publican is, in my view, a clear and strong illustration of the justness of these remarks. There is no proof, nor in my opinion any reason to believe, that this man was regenerated. On the contrary, he declares himself, in his prayer to God, to be a sinner. As this declaration is put into his mouth by our Saviour; it must, I think, be considered not only as a sincere declaration, but a correct one; expressing with exactness the precise truth. He was, also, a convinced sinner; as is evident from




his own words, and from the whole tenour of the parable. Yet he was justified rather than the Pharisee. The Pharisee came before God with a false account of himself; with a lofty spirit of selfrighteousness; and with an unwarrantable contempt for other men; particularly for the publican. The Publican came with a strong and full conviction of his sin, and his supreme need of deliverance. With these views, confessing himself to be a sinner merely, he earnestly besought God to have mercy on him. His sense of his character was plainly just; and his prayer, being the result of his feelings, was of course sincere. Thus far I consider him as justified, and no farther. If he was regenerated in consequence of his prayer, and justified in the Evangelical sense; the parable becomes completely decisive to my purpose; and furnishes all the encouragement to convinced sinners to pray, which can be asked. But this I will not at present insist on; because it is not expressly declared; although, in my own view, it is fairly and rationally inferred from the strain of the parable.

These observations I have made of the present time, because the subject could scarcely fail of occurring to your minds; and because difficulties could scarcely fail of attending it, in the view of some persons at least, which it must be desirable to remove. Allow me, however, to observe, that divines, so far as I may be permitted to judge, have insisted on the metaphysical nature of this and several other subjects in such a manner, as rather to perplex, than to instruct, those who have heard them. To unfold, or to limit, exactly, the agency of moral beings, seems to be a task, imperfectly suited to such minds as ours. What the Scriptures have said concerning this subject we know; so far as we understand their meaning. We also know whatever is clearly taught us by Experience. Beyond this our investigations seem not to have proceeded very far: and almost all the conclusions, derived from reasonings a priori, have failed of satisfying minds, not originally biassed in their favour.

From this digression, which I hope has not been wholly without use, I now return to the general subject.

When the sinner has come to this state of discernment and feeling, in which his character, danger, and necessity of deliverance, are thus realized; and has thus cast himself, as a mere suppliant for mercy, at the footstool of divine grace, God, as has been already observed, gives him a new and virtuous disposition ; styled in the Scriptures a new heart ; a right spirit; an honest and good heart;

the good treasure of a good heart; and by several other names, of like import. That Act of the Spirit of God, by which this disposition is communicated; that is, the act of regenerating man, and the Disposition itself which is communicated, I cannot be expected to describe. Neither of these things can in the abstract, be known, or even contemplated, by such minds as ours. Not a single idea would ever be formed concerning the nature, or existence, of either, were they not discovered by their effects; or, as they are called in the Gospel, their fruits. It may, however, be useful to repeat, that what I intend by this disposition is the cause, which in the mind of man produces all virtuous affections and volitions ; the state, in which the mind is universally possessed of a tendency to the Evangelical character, or the tendency, itself, of the mind towards all that, which in the character is morally excellent. The existence of this disposition is proved by its effects; and in these only can it be seen. As these are new, and before unknown; it follows ir. resistibly, that the cause is equally new. This is, also, abundantly taught by the Scriptures; in which the disposition itself is called a new heart; the man, who becomes a subject of it, a new creature ; and the life, proceeding from it, newness of life.

The first great effect of this disposition is the exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The convinced sinner, as I have repeatedly observed, deeply feels his own utter inability to atone for his sins ; to satisfy the demands of the divine law; and to reconcile himself to God.

All this, however, Christ informs him in the Gospel, he is able, willing, and faithful to do for him. In this situation, the sinner, for the first time, confides in these declarations of the Redeemer; and in that Moral Character, which furnishes the evidence of their truth. The scheme of saving himself, either wholly or partially, he has now given up; and is satisfied, and delighted, to be saved by Christ alone. His self-righteousness, so dear and delightful to hím before, he now discerns to be nothing, but gross spiritual pride; and so far from being praiseworthy, as to be the foundation of nothing, but guilt, and shame. Now he quits all designs of exalting, and gratifying, himself in this work; and becomes highly pleased with exalting Christ by cheerfully rendering to him all the honour of his salvation. With these emotions, he receives Christ with all the heart; and confides in Him for acceptance with God, as the only, and at the same time the most desirable, Atonement for sin. Now, if he could save himself, he would not choose to be thus saved; but sees a beauty and glory in the salvation of sinners by Christ, with which his heart wholly accords, and with which his soul is exceedingly delighted. He surrenders himself, therefore, into the hands of this divine Redeemer, confidentially, to be his here and for ever; to be governed by his choice, and to do all his pleasure.

The next effect of this disposition is that, which in the Scriptures, is called Repentance unto life; and in theological discourses, Edangelical Repentance.

It has been already observed, that the convinced sinner is, of course, deeply affected with a realizing sense of his sins, as being guilty, deserving the wrath of God, and the sources of ruin to himself. After he is regenerated, he, for the first time, begins to hate his sins, as odious in their very nature; as injurious to God, his

fellow-creatures, and himself; and to loathe himself, as a sinner. Now, for the first time, he begins to feel, that he has been an ungrateful, impious, and rebellious wretch; opposed in heart, and life, to the government of his Maker; a nuisance to his fellowcreatures; and an enemy to himself. His character he perceives to be deeply debased; and himself to be unworthy of the least of all the mercies bestowed on him by his divine Benefactor. With all this is also united a strong sense of the odiousness, and danger, of every future sin ; a sense, which is continued through life.

All these things, also, he spontaneously, and ingenuously confesses before God. Him he has injured above all other beings; and to him he wishes, especially, to make whatever satisfaction is in his power. Willingly, therefore, he humbles himself before his Maker in dust and ashes; and henceforth assumes lowliness of mind, as his own most becoming and favourite character.

The disobedience, which he thus hates and loathes, he necessarily wishes, and labours to avoid. The obedience, which he heretofore loathed, he spontaneously assumes, in a manner not less necessary, as his own future character. Unwilling now to wound himself, to injure his fellow-men, and to dishonour God, by the indulgence of his former guilty inclinations, he resolves, henceforth, to do that, and that only, which will glorify his Maker, promote the happiness of his fellow-creatures, and profit his own soul. To this great work, the end of all others, he consecrates himself with sincerity, zeal, and fixed determination.

The next fruit of this disposition is Love to God. When the soul is regenerated, it begins to behold its Maker's character with new optics; and therefore perceives the character itself to be new, so far as its own views are concerned. It is now seen to be formed of such attributes, as wholly deserve, and most reasonably claim, the supreme love of every intelligent being. God becomes to the renewed man, a welcome object of his daily thoughts and meditations: an object

, great and awful indeed; but also lovely and delightful. These two great parts of the divine character, being generally united in the view of the mind, produce in it that regard to God, compounded of fear and love, which is commonly named Rederence ; the affection, in which love is more frequently exercised, than by itself. In the same mind also, the sight of his wonderful works, and more wonderful agency, produces Admiration; a sense of his excellence, Complacency; and the reception of his blessings, Gratitude ; and with these are inseparably united all the other affections of piety; Dependence, Confidence, Resignation, Hope, and Joy. Of these, some prevail at one time, and some at another; but all are inwrought into the very character of the soul, as primary parts of its moral nature.

These three exercises constitute what in the Scriptures is called Conversion, or turning from sin to God.

The next fruit of this disposition is Love to Mankind. Evangel


ical Love to our Neighbour ; that is, to all mankind, whether friends or enemies, is a characteristic of the renewed mind, as really new, and really unexperienced before its renovation, as Repentance or Faith. Whatever love it exercised to others, antecedently to this period, was either selfish or merely instinctive; in the former case sinful; in the latter possessed of no moral character, any more than the affection of brutes to their offspring. Now, the love, which it exercises, is impartial, generous, and noble. Under its influence, the renewed man does that which is good, just, and sincere, because it is so; and because God has required these things in his law; and not from a regard to reputation, or convenience. Now he finds the promotion of happiness to be desirable and delightful in itself, and independently of a separate reward, to be done for its own sake, and not merely as it is done by publicans and sinners. The great question now becomes how, when, and where, good can be done; and not what he shall gain by doing it. * Now, also, he chooses to do good by rule, and from a spirit of obedience to the rightful Lawgiver, and all-wise Director; and thus makes it the purpose of his life. Now finally, he does good conscientiously, with contrivance and design; not accidentally, loosely, and rarely. Towards Christians this love assumes a peculiar character ; being made up of two great and distinguished exercises ; the general Benevolence, exercised toward them in common with all men, and that peculiar delight in their virtuous character, commonly called Complacency, and in the Gospel, Brotherly Love. This is the object of the New Commandment, given by Christ in the Gospel; and made the touchstone, by which they are proved to be his disciples.

Of all these exercises of the mind it is to be observed, that they are active exertions, directed invariably, and alway, toward the promotion of real good; the spring of all excellent conduct within, and without, the soul. It is not to be understood, that they exist, and act, in such a separate manner as to be distinguishable, as to the times, and modes, of their existence, or operations; nor that they actually take place in that order, in which they have now been mentioned. Of this subject the Scriptures give us no distinct account; and happily, as indeed, might fairly be concluded from their silence, it is of no serious importance to us. All, which is really necessary, is, that they exist, and increase, in such a manner, as is best in the sight of God.

As the regenerated man discerns his own unceasing need of divine assistance, and his general propensity to stop, and backslide, in his religious course; he will necessarily, and instinctively, look to God, for assistance, strength, and success. Prayer will be the breath, by which he will live, and grow, and thrive. The closet, the family, and the Church, will alternately be the scenes of his public and private devotions; the places where he will find hope, and peace, and joy; and where he will advance in all Evangelical

« PoprzedniaDalej »