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The Manner of the Dispensation of the Covenant of Grace, and the Preaching of the Gospel.
IN the conclusion of the preceding section, it has been observed and shown, that the covenant of grace is to be exhibited and proposed to all men; and that the blessings contained in it, to those who comply with it, are to be freely offered to all to whom the gospel is preached; which Jesus Christ has commanded to be preached to all nations, to every creature, that is, to all mankind. It is now more particularly to be considered, how this is to be done, and what is implied in preaching the gospel.
This subject may be stated and illustrated under the following particulars.
I. Preaching the gospel implies a declaration of the whole system of truth and duty, contained in divine revelation; as all these are implied in the gospel, and have relation to the covenant of grace. Though some truths are more essential and important than others, and the gospel may be said to be preached, while some are overlooked; yet it cannot be fully preached, unless the whole are brought into view; and must be in a degree defective, by opposing and rejecting any revealed truth, Therefore, to preach the gospel, is to declare all the 97counsel of God, as the apostle Paul did.175175 Acts xx. 27. Every doctrine revealed in the Bible, and every duty prescribed, has a connection with the whole; and all make but one consistent system. The whole may be summed up and epitomized, in a more general and comprehensive way, by expressly mentioning only the leading and most essential truths contained in the gospel, while others, though not mentioned, are implied; and every particular truth, and branch of duty, may be more particularly brought into view and explained, as there is occasion, and opportunity offers; in which the longest life may be spent in teaching, and making advances in learning, and the knowledge of the truth.
Some of the most essential truths implied in the covenant of grace, or the gospel, have been brought into view in the foregoing part of this work, and others are yet to be considered, in their order and connection, together with the duties which are included and enjoined. It appears from what has been said in the preceding chapters, especially in that on the nature of saving faith, that there is such order and connection in revealed truth, and such dependence of one on another, that some things must first be taught, understood and believed, before others can be brought into view, so as to appear in their true light.—This may be illustrated by the following instances, some of which have been already mentioned.
The being of God, his attributes and perfections, in which the divine character consists, must first be understood and believed: as this is the foundation of all religious truth, so that every other revealed doctrine depends wholly upon it. Consequently, a gross mistake respecting the character of the Deity, will lead to error through the whole system of theology, and pervert the gospel. This knowledge of God is necessary, in order to know what is the nature of his moral government, and the reason and extent of his law, and the obligation under which men are to obey it. And a right conception of the moral government and law of God is necessary, in order to know what is the moral character and state of man, viz. wholly depraved, and 98sinful, under the curse and displeasure of God, infinitely guilty and wretched, according to the sentence of a most righteous and good law. All this must be exhibited, understood and believed, before redemption by Christ can be understood, or come into view. Those truths are therefore implied in the gospel, and the covenant of grace; and the gospel cannot be preached without exhibiting them in a true and proper light. In the light of these truths, the way is prepared to discover, and set before men, the design and work of redemption; the person, character, design and work of the Redeemer, and the grace and salvation opened in the gospel; and to show what is necessary, in order to be saved by Christ, and in what this salvation consists; and what are the duties, and promises, and threatenings, which are revealed in the Bible.
II. The publishing of the covenant of grace, and preaching the gospel, does not disannul the law of God, or discharge men from duty and obedience; but requires and demands obedience of all to whom it is preached.
The law is not in the least abated in the extent and Strictness of the precepts of it by the gospel. The obedience of Christ does not discharge any man, even those who believe in him, from perfect obedience to the law of God; or free them in the least degree, from their obligations to be perfectly holy. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth:” So that he may be delivered from the curse of the law, be pardoned and justified, consistent with the law, though he has no personal righteousness and obedience, which answers the demands of it. But this does not remove his ill desert in any degree, or take away, or lessen his obligation to obey the law perfectly: And it remains as much the measure and rule of duty to him, as ever it was. And he is no farther holy, or does any duty, than he conforms to the law of God, and obeys it, requiring him to love God with all his heart, soul and strength, and his neighbour as himself. Thus the preaching of the gospel does not make void the law, but establishes it.176176 Rom. iii. 31.99
In this view, the law must be exhibited in preaching the gospel, not only as necessary to show the sinner his state and character, and to lead him to understand the gospel, and to see his need of Christ, that he may be saved by free grace; but to set before him what is and ever will be his duty, and the rule and measure of his obedience; and that it may be known that the gospel does not abate his obligation to perfect obedience: But when understood in the full extent of it, carries this demand in it, and increases the obligation of believers to be perfectly holy; and cannot propose any other or lower rule of duty.
The gospel does indeed introduce new objects, and proposes and enjoins duties, which could have no existence, had there been no redemption for man. But these duties, which arise from a dispensation of the covenant of grace, cannot be neglected without disobedience to the original law of God; which must be considered as independent of the gospel, and antecedent to the apostasy of man. For the law which requires man to love God with all his heart, binds him to comply with every institution, proposal or offer, which God shall make to him; and to obey every command, which he shall reveal, be it what it may: And not to comply with such institution, or not to accept of any proposal or offer he shall make, and to disobey any command of God, is disobedience to that law. Consequently, such institutions, commands, or offers of pardon and salvation, do not disannul or abate the law, but the contrary.
Though the gospel consists most essentially in the free offer of mercy, on condition of a cordial acceptance; yet it necessarily implies, and carries in this offer, an obligation and command to accept the offer; which acceptance, taken in its full extent, implies and consists in a perfect conformity to the law of God; and every degree of compliance with the gospel, is an equal degree of real holiness, or obedience to the divine law, as has been shown in the section on the nature of saving faith. Though obedience to the gospel, or compliance with it, and acceptance of the salvation which it offers, be a different form and manner of the exercise of 100holiness, which is, so far, more beautiful and excellent, than. obedience to mere law, unconnected with the gospel; yet the former is of the same nature and kind with the latter, and consists in loving God with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. This has been observed and explained in the above mentioned section.
In the preaching of the gospel, there is an offer of a free pardon and complete redemption, to all who are willing to comply with it; but men are not at liberty to reject it, without being accountable, and held guilty for such conduct. They are required and commanded to accept of the offer, and conform to the gospel; and that upon the most dreadful penalty for refusing to obey. Christ himself required of all to whom he preached, to “Repent and believe the gospel:” And he, and John who came before him, declared that he who believeth not on the Son of God, is condemned, that the wrath of God abideth on him, and he shall be damned.177177 Mark xvi. 16. John iii. 18, 36. The apostle Paul says, “Now God commandeth all men, every where, to repent:” And that in preaching the gospel, he “Taught publicly, and from house to house, testifying, (that is, urging and requiring) both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”178178 Acts xvii. 30. xx. 21. He who truly repents and believes the gospel, and so really embraces it, and complies with the covenant of grace, though in an imperfect and low, even the lowest degree, is interested in the promises of the covenant, and shall be saved, though he do not come up to all that is required, at first, and to a perfect compliance with the gospel; and he will not come to a full and perfect compliance, and conformity to the covenant, until he is perfectly holy: For every degree of moral depravity, or all sin, is opposition to the gospel.
Believers are not under the law, but under grace.—By grace they are pardoned, and delivered from the curse of the law: And it is not by the righteousness of the law, or obedience to it, that they obtain pardon and the favour of God, and are made heirs of eternal life; but by the atonement and righteousness of Christ; and 101all this comes to them, as a free gift by sovereign grace. Nevertheless, they are not without law to God, but under the law to Christ; and their obligations to perfect obedience do not cease, but are greatly increased; and all their christian exercises and life, and the whole of their duty, consist in “keeping the commandments of God;” even those two commandments, on which hang all the law and the prophets, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”179179 Matt. xxii. 37, 39. 1 Cor vii. 19. ix. 21. And they do not arrive to the full and most perfect character of christians, of the redeemed by Christ, nor are in the highest and most complete sense united to Christ, until they are perfectly conformed to this law; which never takes place in any instance while in the body, in this life.
III. In preaching the gospel to sinners, nothing is required or proposed, to be done by them, which is short of repentance and faith in Christ, or which does not imply this, in order to their obtaining salvation.
This is implied in the preceding observations; and the contrary is really inconsistent with them. In preaching the gospel, salvation is freely offered to all who will accept of it; and men are invited and commanded to do this, and inevitable destruction is denounced against them who refuse and neglect the offered salvation. But a cordial acceptance of salvation implies repentance and faith in Christ, which is a conformity and obedience to the law of God, so far as it takes place, and the exercise of real holiness. If in the dispensation of the gospel, it were proposed to sinners to do something, and they were required to do it, which does not imply obedience to the law of God, nor acceptance of salvation, and which they may do, consistent with their continuing enemies to God, and to reject the offered salvation with their whole heart, it would be really to drop and lay aside all which the law requires, and so make it void, and to substitute something in place of it, which stands in direct contradiction to it; even as contrary as sin is to holiness. The command to love God cannot make 102that a duty in which there is no love to God; but the exercise of enmity against him. And to require this, or any thing like it, as a duty, is to make void, and even oppose this command.
But as the contrary to this has been practised by many in preaching the gospel, by exhorting and urging sinners to do that which does not imply repentance and faith, or a cordial acceptance of the gospel offer; but is consistent with their continuing impenitent, and rejecting and hating Christ and the gospel, and living in total disobedience to the law of God, requiring them to love him with all their hearts; and doing that which is consistent with all this, has been urged as their duty; and a set of duties, and a course of obedience, have been prescribed for such impenitent sinners, to be done by them, while they continue impenitent enemies to Christ and the gospel: And since there have been a difference of opinion, and not a little dispute on this point, of late years, especially in New-England; it is thought proper to attend to this subject more particularly in this section; hoping that something may be said which may serve to give light, and establish the truth. A careful attention to the following particulars, considered together, and brought into one collected view, with their natural and just consequences, may help to decide this point.
First. Man is naturally, and while unrenewed, in a state of total moral depravity. His mind, his heart, is enmity against God, and his law: This is the nature and tenour of all his moral exercises, while he continues an impenitent sinner, and rejects the gospel.
This will now be taken for granted, as the evidence of it has been already given, and it is so abundantly asserted in scripture.180180 Part I. Chap. VIII. The consequence from this is, that impenitent, unrenewed sinners, do no good thing, no, not one of them, but are in all their moral conduct, wholly disobedient: Therefore, they cannot be exhorted and commanded to do, what they actually do, while impenitent, without being exhorted and commanded to do that which is unreasonable, wrong, and forbidden in the divine law; and such a command would be very absurd, unreasonable, and wrong. Therefore it is certain, 103no such command can be found in the Bible; and no man has a right to form and give such commands; or to imagine that impenitent sinners, while they continue such, ever do any duty, or any thing, as God requires it. God commands all men, every where, to repent and believe the gospel. If at the same time, he should direct and command them to do any thing, while they continue impenitent, and in unbelief, and which implies disobedience to his command to repent; would not one command stand in direct contradiction to the other; and the latter be at least an implicit annulling or suspending the former, and an allowance to live for a time, at least, in impenitence and unbelief?
Second. The moral depravity of men, and their obstinacy in impenitence and rebellion, however great and strong, does not in the least remove, or abate their obligations to repent, believe, and obey the divine commands; or afford any excuse for their disobedience. Or extenuate the criminality of it. This has also been considered in the former part of this work181181 Part I. Chap. VIII.—and is indeed a self evident proposition, as the contrary is a plain contradiction. It follows, from this proposition, that the moral depravity of man, and the opposition of his heart to repentance, however total and strong, is no reason why any thing short of true repentance should be recommended to him, and required of him, as his duty; but is rather a reason against it, as such proposal and requirement would imply an excuse for continuing impenitent, because they have such a strong aversion from it; and that repentance is not their immediate duty; as something else which is consistent with such aversion, and with total impenitence, is substituted in the room of repentance. And it is presumed no one would have thought of prescribing impenitent, unbelieving duty, to sinful men, which is consistent with their total opposition of heart, to God and his law, to Christ and the gospel, had he believed the above proposition, and kept it properly in view: And that it will appear to those who properly attend to this subject, and the manner in which it has been treated, that they who plead for a set of duties to be done by men, while impenitent unbelievers, 104and without conformity of heart to the law of God, or the gospel, do really suppose that the moral depravity of man is attended with an inability to repent and embrace the gospel, which does, in some degree at least, excuse him for not repenting immediately: And if their minds were wholly freed from this notion, they would no longer contend for such duties, or imagine they could have any existence.
It may be proper to observe here, that from the particulars now mentioned, with the arguments from them, if they be just, it appears that it would be inconsistent with what has been already advanced in this system, to admit that the gospel enjoins or proposes any duty that does not imply repentance, as it has been asserted, as important, fundamental truths, that man is totally depraved; and yet this does not diminish his obligation to repent and embrace the gospel, and even to be perfectly holy; or afford the least excuse for one sin: And that there is no duty which does not imply conformity of heart to the law of God.
Third. All the law, and commands of God, respect the heart or will; and there is no obedience to any command, or any moral agency, in which the will is not concerned and active: And no obedience or duty is done by any man, if his heart be not obedient, and conformed to the command. There is no virtue or vice, or any morality, in external actions, any farther than they are connected with the will, as the production and fruit of that. And whatever is the production and fruit of a vicious heart, or will, acting from unreasonable and bad motives, and for a wrong and forbidden end, is not duty, but sin, whether it be in words or actions, or whatever it may be; and whatever be the appearance of it in the sight of men, who cannot see the heart. This is so plain a case, and the irresistible dictate of the feelings and common sense of mankind in general, that it is needless to try to prove it, or say any thing more to illustrate it.
From this it follows, that whatever is said or done, in external actions, by a person who is wholly impenitent, and with a wicked, disobedient heart, is not duty, but sin. Therefore, it is certain, that God never commands 105any man to do any thing so; and with a disobedient, impenitent heart. And when only an external action is mentioned, and commanded, the command has respect to the heart, and requires the action to be done in obedience to him; and not in impenitence and disobedience. Therefore, no man has a right to direct sinners to any thing as duty, and as commanded by God, with an impenitent, disobedient heart; or to flatter him that he may do some duty, while he continues wholly impenitent, and wicked.
Fourth. The scripture does not afford any support to the opinion that shiners are required to do duty, which they may do while they continue impenitent, as nothing is there required as duty, which does not imply repentance; but the contrary. Whenever sinners are there addressed, and called upon to do, they are commanded to repent and believe the gospel, or to do that which implies this, and a real conformity of heart to the moral law of God.
If sinners were to be directed and commanded, in preaching the gospel, to do some duty, in order to be saved, which is not repentance, nor implies any love to God, or acceptance of Christ, most certainly Jesus and his apostles would have done this, and some instances of it, at least, would have been recorded. But as there is not one instance of this, nor the least hint of it; but many instances of the contrary, is not such a notion and practice wholly without any warrant? When the apostles were applied to, with the serious, important question, What shall we do? They answer, “Repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”182182 Acts ii. 38. xvi. 31. And this was agreeable to the example and command of Christ: In preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, saying, “Repent ye, and believe the gospel.”183183 Mark i. 14, 15. He commanded his disciples to go forth, and call on men to repent. And when he gave commission to the apostles to preach the gospel, he directed them to preach repentance and remission of sin, in his name.184184 Luke xiv. 47:
When the young ruler came to Christ, and asked him what he should do, that he might inherit eternal life? Jesus did not direct him to do any thing lower than 106keeping the commandments, and that which implied love to him: even to sell all that he had, and give it to. the poor, and come and follow him. This was most contrary to the reigning disposition of his heart, and Christ knew he was not willing to comply with it; and he went away sorrowful. Why did not Christ direct him to something lower, which he might do consistent with his reigning lust, and his continuing an impenitent sinner? If it were proper to give such direction to any sinner on earth, was it not so in this instance? Why was he not told, that though he could not now find in his heart to forsake all for Christ and heaven; yet he might do some, yea, much duty, which would bring him nearer to heaven, and might issue in that happy event; even that which is consistent with an impenitent, worldly mind, which it was possible with God only to remove?
Therefore, since there is no instance to be found in scripture, of directing and requiring sinners to do that as their duty, which is consistent with continuing impenitent; but whenever they are addressed, they are exhorted and commanded to repent, or to do that which implies repentance, and love, and submission to God; this serves to confirm the reasons which have been given under the preceding particulars, to prove that impenitent sinners do no duty; and that nothing which does not imply repentance, can reasonably be proposed or required of them as their duty, in preaching the gospel to them.—Is not the invariable conduct of Christ and his apostles sufficient to decide this matter? May not their example be safely followed? Is it not wrong, and even presumptuous to deviate from it, and prescribe to men, as their duty, that which they never mentioned in their address to sinners?185185 Some have mentioned the following passages, and some others, as directions and calk to sinners to do what is there commanded, while they continue impenitent, and in a state of sin. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, &c.” But it has been observed, by those who have attended to these passages, and others, which have been adduced to the same purpose, that when properly considered with the context, and other parts of scripture, they do not appear to direct to duties, to be done by sinners, while they continue impenitent; but imply those obedient exercises of heart, which are connected with salvation. No command or direction, which is to be found in scripture, can reasonably be understood as prescribing only that which sinners are to do, and may do, while impenitent and disobedient; unless it be expressly said that they are to do it, and may do what is commanded, while such. It may be presumed, no such passage of scripture will ever be produced, as it would appear to contradict the rest of the Bible, and to be even a contradiction in terms.107
Fifth. Teaching sinners, that while they continue impenitent, they do no duty, nothing that God requires of them, and that he commands them to repent and embrace the gospel; and that they can have no excuse for not doing it immediately, has no tendency to remove or discourage their attention to the things of the gospel, which relate to their salvation, and to make them careless and secure in their sins; but it has a contrary tendency, viz. to awaken their attention, and to promote their conviction, concern and engagedness of mind, to obtain the salvation of their souls.
In preaching the gospel to them, they are to be told what is their state and character, how guilty they are, and wholly inexcusable in their sins; how infinitely dreadful and dangerous their situation is. The gospel is to be opened and explained to them, and what is necessary in order to their obtaining the salvation, which is therein offered to sinners: And they are to be called upon to repent and embrace the gospel as their first and immediate duty; for the neglect and refusal of which, they can have no possible excuse; but it is a most aggravated and dangerous sin. The motives and encouragement to embrace the gospel are to be set before them; and the promises to all who comply are to be urged; and the awful threatenings to all who refuse, and continue in their impenitence, denounced. “He that believeth shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
Surely nothing can be thought of or devised, that would be better suited than this, to arrest and awaken the attention of sinners; and give them the greatest uneasiness and concern, in a view of the wretched, dangerous situation in which they are, while they continue impenitent rejectors of the great salvation. And it is impossible that any person should go on, careless and easy in sin, who so believes and realizes these truths, as to make the deep impression on his mind, which they are 108suited to produce. This has been proved by fact and experiment in thousands of instances. By such preaching, a great and general awakening and concern was spread through the nation of the Jews, under the ministry of John the Baptist; and many pressed into the kingdom of heaven. He laid before them their sin and danger, and called upon them to repent and fly from the wrath to come; and prescribed no duty or doings short of this, of which we have the least intimation. The apostles preached after the same tenor, and were succeeded in being the instruments of awakening and converting many thousands. Three thousand were awakened and converted in one day, and under one sermon, preached by the apostle Peter, in which he proposed nothing to them as duty, to be done by them, short of repentance and believing on Christ. This he inculcated as their next and immediate duty.
The doctrine, that impenitent sinners do no duty, and consequently nothing is required of them as duty, to be done by them, while they continue impenitent, is liable to be abused by men; and no doubt has been perverted and abused to bad purposes; as the gospel itself, and every truth contained in it, has been, by men of corrupt minds. But this is not the least evidence, that it is not an important, revealed truth. It has been said, that according to this, nothing is required of impenitent sinners, and they have nothing to do. Since they have no heart to repent, they have nothing to do; they will therefore not concern themselves about religion or salvation, nor pay any attention to these things. And some, perhaps many, are professing to practise upon this, and to neglect all attention to religion, and concern about it; and to indulge themselves in a course of vice, under the notion that nothing is required of them, which they have a heart to do; and therefore there is no encouragement to attend to the gospel, or any advantage in it.
What has been just now observed is a sufficient confutation of such a sentiment and practice. It appears that there is enough to be said to sinners; and how much is required of them, even more than they are disposed to do. And are they to be wholly excused; and is nothing to be required of them, because they are not 109willing to do it? They are to be warned, and called upon to repent, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. Thus the prophets were ordered to do; and thus did John the Baptist, Christ and his Apostles. And by attending on them many were convinced and persuaded, and found a heart disposed to repent and obey. And there is no encouragement to hope for salvation in any other way.
It is contrary to the plain dictates of reason and scripture, to suppose, that men may not be required and commanded by God, to do that which they are not willing to do, and when it is certain they will not comply with the command, unless God shall give them a heart to obey, make them willing by his power, and work m them to will and to do it. He has a right to speak and command, whether they have a heart to obey or not. If he have not, there can be no law, moral government, or sin.
There are the following reasons for pointing out to men their duty, and requiring them to repent and embrace the gospel, in order to be saved, though they be now impenitent, and have no heart to comply; and it is certain they never will have, till God gives them a new heart.
1. Because this is their duty, and it is proper and important that they should be told, and be made to know what is their duty: For,
2. If they know not what is their duty, and what is necessary for them to be and do, in order to be saved, they cannot know what their state and character is, whether they be willing to comply with it or not; and consequently, will not know what obstinate, wicked hearts they have, and what need they stand in of sovereign grace, to give them new hearts; which is of the greatest importance to be known.
3. Because they must so far actually comply, as to repent and obey the gospel, or perish. Therefore, as they must really do this, audit must be their own voluntary act, in order to be saved, it is proper and necessary, that they should be made to know it, by requiring it of them. And the gospel cannot be preached in any other way.110
4. Because in this way sinners are brought to repentance, and have a heart given them to embrace the gospel. As they could not be under advantages to do this, unless the gospel were preached to them, and they were called upon to repent and believe; so men are brought to this in no other way, and by no other means, but the preaching of the gospel: And under this, and when men enjoy the gospel, God opens the hearts of whom he pleases, to receive the truths which are published, and to obey them, as he opened the heart of Lydia to receive the gospel preached by Paul. When men are required to repent and embrace the gospel, it is not known to any man that they will not have a heart, and be willing to comply, till the experiment is made, and it appears that they continue impenitent: And if they appear to remain impenitent for a time, it is not known that they will not soon come to repentance. God is under obligation to none, and he gives a heart to repent, to those who live under the gospel, to whom he pleases, and when and where he sees fit. But it appears that all have not such an heart given them. The gospel is preached to many, who persevere in rejecting it, and perish more dreadfully, than if they had never heard of it. It is made a savour of death unto death to them.186186 2 Cor. ii. 15, 16. Therefore,
5. Many important ends are answered by preaching the gospel to them who never have a heart to repent and embrace it; by which they have salvation freely offered to them, and they are required to hear and obey.
This is necessary, in order to preach the gospel to any; for none knows, but God, who will repent and accept of the salvation which is offered, till the trial is made, and the offer is made to all who hear it; and no distinction can be made, till men distinguish themselves, by believing or rejecting the gospel. This is also necessary in order fully to express and show the free grace exhibited in the gospel. By this are discovered the exceeding obstinacy and wickedness of man, in his rejecting such a kind offer of pardon and salvation, and his great ill desert; and it will greatly illustrate the justice and propriety of his eternal punishment. And the distinguishing, 111sovereign grace of God, to those who embrace the gospel, and are saved, will hereby be set in a more clear and affecting light, than otherwise it could be.—And many other important ends will be doubtless answered, which are not now thought of by man.
Sixth. Teaching men that they may do that which is their duty, and what God requires them to do, while they continue impenitent, and in an unconverted state, appears to have a bad influence many ways, and tends to delude them, and prevent their embracing the gospel.
This tends to deceive them, with respect to their own true character, and make them to think much better of themselves, than they ought to think; and to overlook the exceeding obstinacy and wickedness of their own hearts; and that there is no good thing in them, and they are wholly undone and lost in themselves: And therefore tends to prevent their understanding- the gospel, and coming to Christ, who came to seek and to save those only who are lost.
Men, through the natural pride of their hearts, are disposed to shut their eyes against that light which discovers their evil deeds, and lays open the total depravity and wickedness of their hearts; and are therefore ready to lay hold on any thing which opposes, and tends to shut out this light. And so long as they are told, and believe they are doing some duty, they will think they have some good thing in their hearts, and do that which is pleasing to God; and will naturally, and even necessarily rely upon it, as in some degree, at least, recommending them to the favour of God, which will effectually prevent their coming to Christ, as poor and wretched, blind and naked.
And this way of teaching sinners has a natural and strong tendency to lead them to think and feel, that they have some excuse for not repenting and believing on Christ; and that they are not blameable for this, nor can it reasonably be required of them. For while they are directed to do some things as duty, which are consistent with impenitence, and are expressly told they are to be done by unrenewed sinners, antecedent to their repentance, and embracing the gospel, they are naturally led to think, there is such difficulty in die latter, to 112which they find no heart or inclination, that they are not obliged to repent immediately; and that their duty consists chiefly, if not wholly, in waiting on God, for a heart to repent and embrace the gospel: And in this way, they continue blind to their greatest sin, and which is the chief aggravation of all their sins, viz. unbelief; and imagine they are doing their duty, and waiting on God for his blessing, with an impenitent, rebellious heart, and while they are “abominable, disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate!”
It has been observed, that it is probable, duties to be done by impenitent, unconverted sinners, while they continue such, would never have been thought of and urged, had not an opinion been entertained, that they are under an inability to repent and believe on Christ, which does excuse them, in some measure, at least, for continuing impenitent, and unconverted. From this apprehension and sentiment, sinners have not been called upon to repent and embrace the gospel immediately; but to do some lower duties, which do not imply repentance, or renovation of heart; which are required as the instrumental duties, in order to obtain saving mercies; and which they may and can do, while unconverted; and therefore can have no excuse for neglecting them. And this appears to be confirmed by fact. Most, if not all of those, who have pled for such duties, and have prescribed them to sinners, to be done by them, as unconverted and impenitent, have, at the same time, either expressly or implicitly represented them as under such an inability to perform duties in a holy manner, which does, at least in some measure, excuse, and does not wholly consist in their having no desire or inclination to repent, and opposition of heart to it; but that there is, in their case, a cannot, independent of a will not; and that the latter is therefore distinct from the former; and that the former kind of inability does excuse, as it certainly must, so far as it does not consist wholly in the evil inclination of the will, and is independent of it. And from this opinion, many public teachers and authors have not called on sinners and required of them, to repent immediately; but have directed them to do many duties, while they continue unconverted; or at least 113have insisted chiefly on the latter, as they consider them able to do the latter, though they cannot do the former.
This appears to be one great and chief mean of promoting, confirming and spreading far and wide the doctrine, that sinners are under an inability to repent and believe on Christ, which is a good excuse for neglecting it, and living in an unconverted state. Hence, when they are, in scripture language, called upon to repent, and accept of offered mercy, it is common for them to say, they cannot do this, and offer it as an excuse for their not turning to God, and embracing the gospel. And as this is a sentiment so agreeable to the hearts of sinners, as it excuses their impenitence, and helps to shield them against a true conviction of their criminality in continuing in an unconverted state; and leads them to think they have sincere and strong desires to be christians; but cannot, through some insuperable difficulty, independent of their will, which cannot be removed by their inclination and endeavours to do it; they greedily imbibe it, and are disposed to hold it fast. So long as this sentiment is cordially embraced, it will prevent a true and thorough conviction of their own character and state; and therefore has a bad and dangerous tendency.—It is an implicit denial of the total depravity of man; and misrepresents the nature of the sinner’s moral depravity, and inability to do that which is holy and good; as if it rendered him innocent and blameless, while he continues unholy and disobedient.
Jesus Christ indeed says, “No man can come to me except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him.”187187 John vi. 44. And it is abundantly declared in the scripture, that no man will repent, and do what is required of him, unless his heart be renewed by divine influence. But at the same time, their neglect and refusal to hear and obey, is represented as wholly their own fault; and that their inability is their crime, consisting wholly in the inexcuseable wickedness of their own hearts. And the requirement is not laid aside or lowered, because they are unwilling to obey; and something short of a compliance substituted in the room of it. When Christ spake the words that have been mentioned, the context 114shows that he did not mention their inability as any excuse for their not coming to him, but considered it as very criminal in them, and as rather an evidence and aggravation of their wickedness. And he constantly invited and required all to come to him; and told them their inability consisted in the strong and fixed opposition of their hearts to it. He said; “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” We do not find him saying, since ye are not able to come to me, I will prescribe to you some other duty, which you may and must do, while you refuse to come to me, and have such a strong opposition of heart to me, that you cannot come. Nor has any one yet been able to discover any duty enjoined by him, which men may do with a heart which is wholly in opposition to him.
It is now left to the reader to judge, whether the particulars which have been here mentioned, considered in their connexion and consequences, do not prove the truth of the proposition to which they relate; and make it evident, that in preaching the gospel, nothing is proposed and enjoined as duty, to be done by men, which is consistent with their rejecting the offers of it, and continuing impenitent.
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