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And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man.
IN this chapter we have God taking a survey of the state of the sons of men before the flood; and withal we have the judgment or verdict that he delivers in upon that survey, namely, that they were exceeding wicked; as in verse 5, And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth. We have him in the first chapter looking over all created beings, and thereupon pronouncing his approbation of them, that behold they were good, and hear no further of them: in the sixth chapter, we have man, that of all those good things should have in reason proved the best, totally corrupt and depraved; as appears from the same verse, Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was evil, and only evil, and that continually. So that we see his sins were as numerous as his thoughts, and withal so great, that it even repented the Lord that he had made man upon the earth; as we read in verse 6. Sin is of so vile and provoking a nature, that it is able to extort a certain kind of repentance from God himself, who has elsewhere said, that he cannot repent: so that here we see God himself repenting, by reason of the sins of men: but of the sinner’s repentance we read not a word. Now when sins are arrived to 358their highest pitch, both in respect of number and greatness; and withal attended with an absolute impenitence; what in reason can remain but a certain sad expectation of judgment against the sinner? And such an one we have here. After the overflowing of sin upon the whole earth, God in his justice seconds it with a deluge of waters; and so proportions his punishment to the rate of the offence; a general destruction to a general sin. But before the execution of this judgment, and amidst those aboundings of sin and wickedness, yet God left not himself without a witness in the hearts of men; but continued his Spirit in the ordinary operations thereof, secretly dealing with and entreating men to be reconciled to God. Notwithstanding their obstinate progress in sin, their continual pursuit of the lusts and desires of their evil mind, they had many a gripe of conscience, many sad remorses, many checks and calls from the Holy Spirit, which, by their resolution to persist in sin, they did at length totally extinguish. Upon their rejection of the Spirit, God intends to ruin and reject them, and to that intent withdraws the Spirit, and the strivings of it. And presently after we read of the flood breaking in upon them, to their utter ruin and perdition.
The words will afford several observations; as first, from the method God took in this judgment, first withdrawing his spirit, and then introducing the flood, we may observe,
1. D. That God’s taking away his Spirit from any soul, is the certain forerunner of the ruin and destruction of that soul.
This is clearly evinced from the words; for although the flood did immediately terminate in the 359destruction of the body only, yet because it snatched these men away in a state of impenitence, it was consequentially the destruction of the soul.
2. From that expression of the Spirit’s striving with man, which does always imply a resistance from the party with whom we strive, we may observe,
2. D. That there is in the heart of man a natural enmity and opposition to the motions of God’s holy Spirit: outward contention it is the proper issue and product of inward hatred; striving in action it is an undoubted sign of enmity in the heart: The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, Gal. v. 17. Here we see there is a sharp combat between these two: and the apostle subjoins the reason of it; for these two are contrary. Things contrary will vent their contrariety in mutual strife.
3. From the same expression of striving we may observe,
3. D. That the Spirit in its dealings with the heart is very earnest and vehement.
To strive, it imports a vigorous putting forth of the power; it is such a posture as denotes an active desire. There is none that strives with another, but conquest it is the thing both in his desire and in his endeavour.
4. The fourth observation is drawn from the definitive sentence that God here passes, that his Spirit should not always strive with man, and it is this;
4. D. That there is a set and punctual time, after which the convincing operations of God’s Spirit upon the heart of man, in order to his conversion, being resisted, will cease, and for ever leave him.360
This seeming to take in the chief, if not the only drift and scope of the Spirit in these words, waving the consideration of the rest, I shall only prosecute this.
In the prosecution of it, I shall do these things.
I. I shall endeavour to prove and demonstrate the truth of this assertion from scripture.
II. I shall shew how many ways the Spirit may be resisted.
III. I shall shew whence and why it is that upon some resistance the Spirit finally withdraws.
IV. Make application.
I. Concerning the first, I shall present you with the proof of this doctrine from several scriptures, that give us pregnant examples, that this is the way of God’s dealings still to withdraw his Spirit after some notorious resistance.
1. The first is that dreadful place in which is set down God’s dispensation towards the children of Israel, in Psalm xcv. 10, 11; Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. We have here these things observable.
1. Their resistance of God’s Spirit, specified in these words; I was grieved with this generation.
2. We have the set and limited time of that resistance; it was forty years.
3. God’s judicial withdrawing his Spirit thereupon, and delivering them up to a state of everlasting spiritual desertion, held forth in these words; I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest. From whence we see that the departure 361of the Spirit was as infallibly sure, as the truth of God confirmed with the obligation of an oath could make it.
A second place, that yet further proves that there is such a critical, fixed time of the Spirit’s working, is in Heb. iv. 7, He limiteth a certain day, saying, To-day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart. This expression seems to hold forth two things.
1. The fixed determination of the time of the Spirit’s speaking to us; To-day. Now as in a day, after such a set hour it is unavoidably and certainly night; so after such a season of the Spirit’s strivings, there inevitably follows a final desertion. While it is day the Spirit works; but this night cometh, and it will not work.
2. This expression shews the shortness of this time. The day of grace, it is but a day. It is the sun of righteousness shining in our faces for some few hours. Which, by the way, speaks severe reproof to the unreasonable delays of some, in their closing and complying with God. The Spirit calls them to-day, and they promise obedience to-morrow. Procrastination in temporals is always dangerous, but in spirituals it is often damnable.
The third place that may be alleged for the proof of this truth is that, Luke xix. 42, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. In these words also we may observe three things.
1. Their enjoyment of a season, in which the Spirit dealt with them concerning the things of their peace; they had their day.362
2. Their neglect and misimprovement of that season, implied in Christ’s wish that they had known and improved it.
3. God’s dealing with them upon that misimprovement; the things of their peace were hid from their eyes. When the day of grace is past, and darkness upon the soul, no wonder if it is unable to discern the things of its peace. To these places we may add that in Gen. xv. 16, where God says, that the sin of the Amorites was not yet full: implying, that there was a certain pitch of sin, under which he would not destroy, and after which he would not spare them. Till such time as a vessel is filled, we may still pour in more and more; but when it comes to its fulness, then it has its ne plus ultra, there is no capacity to receive any more. So during the time of God’s permission, we may go on in a way of opposition to him, to multiply acts of resistance against the Spirit; but after this set time is expired, there must be no further resistance made: we must either yield, or die eternally: God will not let us perpetuate our rebellions against him; he will either take away our opposition, or the Spirit which we so oppose.
And thus much for the proof of the point by scriptures, which leave it undoubted, that the Spirit has its set time of striving with the heart, after which it will cease. And now I could observe also, by way of allusion and illustration, how that the creatures also have their set and stinted times allotted them, beyond which they can do nothing with success. It is notable in the dealings of men, when they make contracts and bargains, there is some good hour, some advantageous nick of time, which 363if overslipt and let go, either the price fails or the thing fails. And it is further observable, that there are some lucky seasons and offers of preferment in every man’s life, which if not laid hold upon, a man is for ever after degraded in his worldly advancements. Nay, even those creatures that are only acted by a principle of sense do observe their set times, in which they will do the works of their nature, and after which they will not. The bird has its summer to build in, and the bee to gather honey in; and if they should chance to be hindered from doing these works at that time, they are never seen to do them in the winter. In Jeremiah viii. 7, we have this very consideration applied to this present purpose; Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the Lord. I do not mention these things as arguments to prove any thing, but only as observations to illustrate what has been already proved. For since some presume to say, that the visible carnal world is an image or adumbration of the invisible and spiritual; methinks God, that has tied all the operations of the creature within such a strict observance of their respective seasons, he himself should be much more regular and exact in the observance of his own. I shall conclude this first head with that place in Ecclesiastes iii. 1, To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. And without question we shall find, that not man only, but even the Spirit of God also, as he has his time to work, so he has a time also to leave off working; a time to solicit and persuade, and a time to depart.364
But here, before I enter upon the second thing, to prevent misapprehensions, you must here observe, when I say there is a set time of the Spirit’s working, after which it ceases, it is not to be understood of a general set time, which is the same in every man, and beyond which these workings never pass; as for example, because forty years was the set time of the Spirit’s striving with Israel, we are not thence to conclude, that it will continue its workings just so long with all the world besides: but it is to be meant of a set and stinted time in respect of every particular man’s life, in which there is some limited period, wherein the workings of the Spirit will for ever stop. For as it merely depends upon the sovereignty of God’s good pleasure, whether or no there should be any such workings at all; so it is likewise absolutely at his disposal to prolong or shorten their continuance. Only this we may rationally collect; where the means of grace are more plentiful, there the Spirit, upon resistance, sooner departs. Now these being more fully, clearly, and convincingly dealt forth under the dispensations of the gospel, than those of the law, we may conclude this also, that the Spirit in such times is quicker in his despatches, and shorter in his stay. Thus God forbore the fig-tree but three years, and the children of Israel forty. And no wonder; that was in a fruitful soil, these in the wilderness. And God will bear with that unfruitfulness in a wilderness, that he will not in his vineyard.
II. Having thus proved the point by scripture, and withal given you some caution for the understanding of it; I proceed in the next place to shew, how the Spirit may be resisted in its workings 365upon the heart. Herein, as for those controversies, whether the workings of the Spirit, by which a man is not actually converted, were yet notwithstanding sufficient for his conversion; or, when one resists the Spirit, and another does not, whether this proceeds from the different operations of the Spirit, or the different dispositions of the hearts wrought upon; I shall not undertake here to determine. But this I shall presume to affirm, that what God never intended should convert a man was never able to convert him: and moreover, what never actually does convert him was never fully intended for his conversion: otherwise, if it was, we must make his intentions frustrate; which, I think, cannot be affirmed, without a blasphemous derogation from his power and his wisdom. But to the point in hand, namely, to shew how many ways the Spirit may be resisted. Where we must first lay down, what it is in general to resist the Spirit. And this I conceive is, in brief, to disobey the Spirit commanding and persuading the soul to the performance of duty and the avoidance of sin.
Now the Spirit commands and persuades two ways.
1. Externally, by the letter of the word, either written or preached.
2. By its immediate internal workings upon the soul, which I shall reduce to two.
(1.) The illumination of the understanding.
(2.) The conviction of the will.
Now suitable to all these ways of the Spirit’s dealing with us, there are so many different acts of resistance, by which these dealings are opposed.
Of all which in their order.
1. Concerning the resistance of the Spirit in disobeying 366the letter of the word. The reason that disobedience to the word is to be accounted an opposing of the Spirit, is because the word was dictated and inspired by the Spirit itself. As we have it in 2 Pet. i. ult. Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Spirit. Therefore to disobey what was writ and delivered by them, was, in effect, to disobey the Spirit that did inspire them. I may truly say of this word, that it is the voice of God, and not of a man: and what God is the author of, that he will certainly own, both by his encouragements of those that obey it, and his judgments upon those that reject it. It may indeed be delivered by a poor, inconsiderable, obscure man, but even so it is stampt with the appointment of God, and will do thorough execution: be the cloud never so obscure and dark, yet lightning may break from it, to the terror and shaking of all beholders. This word, that is so slighted by sinful man, is no less than the power of the almighty God to salvation; that instrument which the Divine Omnipotence uses to convert souls. Look but into the law; and if thou hast a spiritual ear open to hear it, it will speak with a voice that will make thee tremble. Read the gospel; and if ever God do thee good by it, thou wilt feel it like a twoedged sword, dividing between thee and thy dearest lusts. It will be a fiery, a searching word; it will pierce into thy very heart, and unbosom all thy retired corruptions: it will discover to thee those two great mysteries, the mystery of godliness and of iniquity: it will mightily convince of sin, righteousness, and judgment: it will display how cursed and bitter a thing it is to sin against an 367almighty God; how excellent and amiable it is to follow him in the traces of a pure conversation. It will also lay before thee the certainty, the horror, and dreadfulness of the day of judgment to all the impenitent. This is the power, this is the energy and the force of the word; and if it never had this effect upon thy heart, it was because thou hast resisted the Spirit speaking in it.
It may here be demanded how the Spirit may be resisted speaking in the word.
I answer, two ways.
1. By a negligent hearing and a careless attendance upon it.
2. By acting in a clear and open contrariety to it.
1. Concerning the first, the resistance of the Spirit speaking in the word by a superficial attendance upon it. As for those that seldom or never hear it at all; that keep out of the Spirit’s reach; that are such fools as not only to put the evil day, but also the good day far from them; that do not so much resist, as wholly reject the Spirit; their condition, no doubt, is very sad and desperate. Certainly Sodom and Gomorrah will be able to commence a plea for themselves at the day of judgment that these cannot: for the joyful sound never rung in their ears, the gospel was never brought to their doors; but these have had the means even offered to them, and refused them. But if the word has been a burden, and sabbaths have been a trouble, what a weight will there be in damnation! A man shall one day be accountable, not only for the sermons that he has heard, but for those also that he might have heard. But to pass over those who scarce merit the name of professors, there is another sort, that indeed hear the 368word, yet with that supine negligence, that they cannot quit themselves from being ranked amongst the contemners of the Spirit. Some indeed hear the sound of the word as of the wind, but, for want of attention, scarce know from whence it comes, nor whither it goes. Some suffer wandering thoughts, like the fowls of the air, to intercept the seed, before it falls upon their hearts. Some by reason of their own idle discourses cannot hear the voice of the Spirit. Some sleep, and shut their eyes against that light that might otherwise shine into their souls. And is not this to despise the Spirit? Believe it; as it is the greatest affront that we can offer to any considering man, when he is seriously speaking to us, and that about the things of our own concernment, to be thinking of something else, and not to regard him; so in these addresses of the Spirit to us about the things of our own eternal peace, not to attend or observe him, is so much greater a contempt, by how much the Spirit of God is greater than the greatest of men.
2. The second way of resisting the Spirit speaking in the word is by acting contrary to that word. The most considerable thing in man is his actions. Every action it is defined, fluxus virium agentis; it is the drawing forth the very spirit and vigour of the agent upon some object: thoughts like shadows in the mind quickly vanish; words are transient, and pass away; but deeds and actions will abide. Accordingly God lays all the stress of religion upon these: the law runs thus; Do this, and thou shalt live: the gospel says, Not every one that cries Lord, Lord, but he that does the will of my Father, shall enter into heaven. Both agree in this, that 369they put not men upon bare words and wishes, but upon doing. Nay, let me further say, if it were possible that we could do the will of God without hearing of it, it was no matter whether we heard it or no; for hearing is not intended for itself, but in order to doing. We read of one in the gospel that was commanded by his father to go work in the vineyard, but he denied, and said he would not go; yet notwithstanding was excused, because at length he did go: and so expiated the evil of his words by the goodness of his deeds. Therefore it is the obedience or disobedience of our actions that the Spirit of God chiefly regards. You may hear the word, and, what is more, you may hear it with attention; yet if by your practice you contradict the things that you have heard, this is to resist the Spirit. To hear or read the precepts of God, and yet do things contrary to those precepts; to hear the thunder of his curses, and yet not to be wrought upon, so as to avoid the cursed thing; this is notoriously to resist the Spirit. He that shall hear God commanding him not to take his name in vain, and yet pollute it with hideous blasphemous oaths; that shall hear Christ forbidding wantonness, even in the glance of an eye, and yet roll himself in folly and uncleanness; he that shall hear that dreadful voice of God, Cursed be he that does the work of the Lord negligently, and yet come unprepared to duties, and, being come, slightly perform them; surely such a person is to be reckoned amongst the highest opposers of the Spirit. If every idle word renders a man obnoxious to judgment, shall not a downright breach of the law by action sink a man under a much more heavy condemnation? He that will not 370hear, or, hearing, takes no notice of the laws of his prince, is a disobedient subject; but he that acts in opposition to them is an open rebel. Now the reasons that this kind of resisting the Spirit in our actions is so great, may be these two.
1. Because action is the very perfection and consummation of sin. Sin may indeed make a foul progress in our thoughts and desires, and step a little further in our words; but when it comes to be acted, then it attains its full pitch, and becomes perfect.
2. Because sin in the actions argues an overflowing and a redundancy of sin in the heart. A sinful action it is only the boiling over of sin as it lies there: for the heart it is yet in the womb; for as the apostle says, there it is conceived: but in the actual commission of it, it is then brought forth: so that if (according to our Saviour’s word) through the abundance of the heart a man speaks, then certainly from the exceeding superabundance of it does he proceed to action.
Having thus shewn how the Spirit is resisted in its external speaking in the word, I shall next shew how it is resisted in its immediate internal workings upon the soul.
Here we must reflect upon ourselves, and know that, upon the unhappy fall of man, sin, and the wretched effects of sin, immediately entered upon, and took full possession of all his faculties: his understanding, that before shined clear like the lamp of God, was by sin overspread with darkness: his will, that bore a perfect conformity to the divine will, was rendered totally averse from and contrary to the things of God. When man was first created, there was such an exact symmetry and harmony of all the faculties, 371such an absolute composure of the whole, that he was not only the workmanship, but also the image of his Maker. But sin shattered all, it took the whole fabric asunder. And thus the soul, being broke and ruined, (as God threatened to Babylon, in Isaiah xiii. 21,) became desolate, and a place of doleful creatures; that is, black and dismal apprehensions of God’s wrath, and gross ignorance of his will, lodging in the understanding: and a place for satyrs to dance in; that is, of brutish lusts, and impure desires, acting, moving, and taking their pastime in the will. Now God the Father, through the admirable contrivance of his wisdom, and the propensity of his mercy, intending man’s recovery, and the Son as mediator undertaking it, it was requisite that in order to it, he should take away and cure all these distempers both of man’s understanding and his will. Hereupon, by virtue of the power committed to him as mediator, he issues forth the Spirit as the purchase of his death, for the accomplishment of these gracious ends, in renewing and recruiting the decayed nature of man. And this he does by the two forementioned works, to wit, illumination and conviction; in both of which the Spirit may be resisted.
1. Concerning our resistance of it in illumination, or its enlightening work. Where note by way of caution, that by the works of the Spirit I understand not the extraordinary efficacious works thereof in true conversion; for these are not resistible, inasmuch as they take away our resistance: they depend not upon the courtesy of our wills as to their success, but upon the sole power of God forcing his way through the heart in spite of all opposition. 372But I speak of its common works, such as a man may frustrate, such as he may be partaker of, and yet perish. And these enlightenings both may be and often are resisted by the soul. Illumination in general may be described, the Spirit’s infusing a certain light into the mind, whereby it is in some measure enabled to discern and judge of the things of God. Now this light is threefold.
1. That universal light which we usually term the light of nature, yet so as it may also be rightly termed the light of the Spirit; but in a different respect. It is called the light of nature, because of its general inherence in all men; because it is commensurate and of equal extent with nature, so that wheresoever the nature of man is to be found, there this light is to be found. It enlightens every man that comes into the world. But on the other hand, it is called the light of the Spirit, in respect of the Spirit’s efficiency, in that it is the producing cause of it, as it is of every good and perfect gift. This light it is the first breathing of God upon our nature, the very first draught and lineaments of the new creature; it is, as it were, the first dawning of the Spirit upon the soul, in those connate principles born with us into the world, and discovering, though very imperfectly, some general truths; as that there is a God, and that this God is to be worshipped, and the like. Yet this is but a glimmering, imperfect light, and such an one as carries with it a greater mixture of darkness; like the break of day, which has in it more of night, it is but one remove from darkness. The Spirit of God shining barely in nature, it is like the sun shining through a cloud, but with a faint, weak brightness, made rather to refresh 373than satisfy. Yet this was all the heathens had, in whom especially the imperfection of it appeared, as not being able to rescue them from idolatry, from villainous and unnatural lusts, both of which are the blush of nature as well as of religion. Yet by this light they shall be judged, and by this condemned. Wherefore of all sins that resist the Spirit, loathe and detest those that resist it speaking in nature, which are so gross and horrid, as not to be named, much less to be committed. Certainly these stains are not the stains and spots of God’s children: nature itself is corrupted, yet it will testify aloud against such hideous corruptions. Conscience is corrupted, yet, like the unjust judge, through the importunity and cry of such, it will judge righteously. To be unnatural is something more than to be irreligious; for a man to offer violence to the principles, what is it but a spiritual self-murder? To cease to be a man, is something worse than not to be a saint. O reverence therefore this light, set up by God himself in our nature. As we are not to rely upon it as our only guide, so are we upon no hand to sin against it: walking according to its directions is not sufficient to save us, but going contrary to them will certainly condemn us.
2. The second kind of light may be called a notional scripture light; that is, a bare knowledge of or assent to scripture truths. This light is begot in the mind of all professors by the mere hearing or reading the word: it is the bare perception of evangelical truths placed in the intellect, resting in the brain, treasured up there by a naked apprehension and speculation. So that the resisting this, being almost the same with our resistance of the Spirit 374speaking in the word, only with this difference, that in the former we resist the word as considered in the letter, in this we resist it as it lies transcribed in the conceptions of the understanding: I say, since this almost coincides with the former, which I have discussed already, I shall proceed no further in it, only leave this to your consideration, that if the poor heathens fell under the wrath and curse of God, only for resisting the Spirit in the dim light of nature; then how will it be possible for us to escape, if we resist it now shining openly (like the sun in his might) in the clear discovery of the law and gospel? As the light which we resist is greater or less, so is the proportion of our sin either diminished or advanced. Therefore if we disobey the Spirit, what can follow, but that as our light, so our sin also, must be far greater than theirs, and our punishment answerable? For assuredly, the just God, who takes the exact and true dimensions of sin, will heat the furnace of his wrath seven times hotter for gospel reprobates, than for ignorant heathens.
3. The third kind of light may be called a special convincing light, which is an higher degree of the enlightening work of the Spirit, and not common to all professors, yet such a one as may be resisted, yea and totally extinguished. This is the highest attainment of the soul on this side saving grace; it is like the clear shining of the moon and stars, which is the greatest light that is consistent with a state of darkness. Yea it is such a light as does not only make a discovery of the things of God, but also engenders in the soul a certain relish and taste of them. It is a light, not only of knowledge, but of joy; and this it was that enlightened the stony 375ground in Matt. xiii. 20, which did not only hear and apprehend the word, but also with joy received it: yet we see in the next verse, that it was not able to withstand tribulations and persecutions, but when the storms arose, and the wind beat upon it, it quickly went out; like a torch before a tempest, after a very short and weak contest, it was soon extinguished. However, we must know, that this light is the ultimus conatus, the last and greatest endeavour of the Spirit upon a reprobate soul, which once finally resisted for ever departs, and leaves the soul under an everlasting night, without any after returns of day. To be thus enlightened, is called in scripture to taste of the heavenly gift, to be partaker of the Holy Ghost, and of the powers of the world to come, as it is expressed in Heb. vi. 4, 5: and of the desperate, deplorable condition of those that miscarry under these illuminations, we have an account in the next verse; If they fall away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. The wicked, says God, shall fall, and never rise.
He that shall hear what report the gospel makes of the nature of sin, and be so far affected with a lively sense and feeling of it, as to resolve against it, to hate it, even to a relinquishment of it, and continue for a long time so to do, yet notwithstanding at length disentangle himself from those thoughts and apprehensions of sin, so far as to relapse into the fearful commission and love of it, that man’s case is grievous, and his wound not easily curable. For God intends these, illuminations as singular special means, both to allure the soul to duty by the discovery of the love of Christ, and to awe it from sin by the terrors of hell. Now when a man desires 376to sleep securely in the free enjoyment of his sin, and shall therefore seek to put out this light, we have no ground to conclude that the Spirit will ever restore it. He that frowardly and foolishly puts out his candle, is not sure to blow it in again. As for those common shinings of it that beam forth in the notion of the word, they indeed may be renewed every sermon, they are such beams as we read of, occidere et redire possunt. But when this special light is extinct, when this sets in darkness, the soul that is thus benighted is left to sleep a perpetual sleep of sin and death.
And thus much concerning the first inward work of the Spirit, to wit, illumination of the understanding; we come now to the second, which is the conviction of the will, which conviction may be described in general,
A work of the Spirit of God upon the will and affections, producing in them some imperfect liking of the ways of God, and dislike to the ways of sin.
There is a clear and open passage between the understanding and the will. Light in the one naturally begets heat in the other, and the conviction of the affections is never greater than the illumination of the judgment. So that when the work of the Spirit miscarries about the understanding, it never throughly succeeds in the will; for it strikes the will and the affections through the understanding; and if it cannot pierce this, it is not to be imagined how the blow can reach the other.
Now the convincing works of the Spirit upon the will may be reduced to these three.
1. A begetting in it some good desires, wishes, and inclinations.377
2. An enabling it to perform some imperfect obedience.
3. An enabling it to leave some sins.
In all these works the Spirit may be resisted and opposed.
1. And first, it may be resisted in the good desires and inclinations that it suggests to the will. That these good desires issue from the Spirit, I suppose none will deny, who acknowledges that of ourselves we are not so much as able to think a good thought. He that affirms holy duties may proceed from an unholy, corrupt heart, may as well expect grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles. As there are some desires so exceeding black and hellish, that it easily appears they came into the mind from their father the Devil; so on the contrary there are some so pure and holy, that they may be quickly discerned to be the offspring of the Spirit, as bearing his image and likeness. Good inclinations, they are the firstborn of holiness in the soul, the very first endeavours and throes of the new birth. And as they are the first, so in reason they may be thought to be most imperfect, and consequently most easy to be rejected: a good desire stepping forth amongst raging and unmortified lusts, it is like righteous but weak Lot, endeavouring to appease the tumult of the Sodomites. O! how easily is it forced to retire! how quickly is it repulsed! It is like a drop of water falling into a furnace, that presently exhales, and does not at all allay the fury of its heat. How often has the Spirit whispered to us, This is the way, walk in it, and our perverse hearts have hurried us another way! How often has many a soul thoughts of relinquishing its sin, and returning to God, and 378yet by the allurement of new pleasures has been inveigled and recalled back! How often do some think of repairing to Christ, and yet are held fast by the fetters of prevailing lust! And all this befalls men, because they improve not these blessed inclinations. O! were we but true to our own souls, to cherish these tender, new-born, infant desires, and to carry them to Christ by prayer, certainly he would take them in his arms and bless them, and send them away strengthened. Every sincere desire to pray might be improved to a blessed communion with God; every secret dislike of impurity might be wrought up to sanctity of life and conversation. O despise not therefore the day of small things; shut not your ears against the secret admonitions of the Spirit; they are none other than God himself speaking to thee (as to Elijah) in a still voice. You may one day come to know, when with bitterness of soul you shall reflect upon and recollect all these dealings of the Spirit: Such a time I had an inclination to confess my idleness, my intemperance before God, and amend it; but I hearkened to the dissuasions of my corrupt heart, and so neglected it. Such a time I had strong motions and intentions to restore my ill-gotten goods; but my covetousness restrained me. I say, then you will know and confess, (as Jacob did of Bethel,) Of a truth God was in all these workings, and I knew it not.
2. The Spirit may be opposed, as it enables the soul to perform some imperfect obedience to God’s commands. A man, by the convincing energy of the Spirit in the word, may be led, or rather drawn to many duties. Thus Herod, in Mark vi. 20, upon the soul-searching ministry of John, is said to have 379 done many things. The Israelites also, in Psalm lxxviii. 34, were driven by God’s judgments to proceed very far in his worship; When he slew them, (it is said,) they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God. So that here we have both duty and earnestness in duty; but we see in the following verse they quickly got loose from those convictions; They flattered him with their mouth, and lied unto him with their lips: that is, their ensuing practices foully falsified all those fair promises of obedience which they made under their convictions. Such men’s hearts may be often heated by the lively and warm impressions of the Spirit; yet by their innate corruptions, as it were, their proper form, like water heated, they are quickly recovered to their native coldness. In Job xxvii. 10, Job says, Will the hypocrite always call upon God? Implying, I conceive, that from the motions of God’s Spirit he may engage very fairly in that duty, though he fall short of continuance. See the convincing works of God’s Spirit upon Ephraim, in Hosea vi. 4; they wrought in him some superficial beginnings of goodness; but, as it is there expressed, it was like a morning cloud, when temptations arose it posted away, and like the early dew, presently drunk up by the scorching heat of raging lusts. Now this resistance of the Spirit is much more heinous than the former, inasmuch as the practice of holiness is greater than a bare desire and inclination to it. To injure or offend him that does but wish and desire our good, argues little ingenuity; but to grieve and oppose him that actually endeavours it, shews a plain want of humanity. For him, who has maintained some communion with the Spirit, and has 380 took sweet counsel with him, so that they have often walked to the house of God in company; I say, for such an one to lift up his heel in acts of defiance and resistance of the Spirit, this is very grievous. When a man has proceeded very far in the mortification of his pride, his drunkenness, his lust, for him to return again to the same excess of riot, this is a more than ordinary provocation. When he is upon a fair advance to Zoar, to the city of life and deliverance, for such an one to look back upon Sodom, and cast an eye of desire upon his forsaken filth; it is just with God to make such an one a wonder and a sad example of his abused mercy. But this is the upshot of all, this is the very dividing point where the Spirit of God and the souls of men break and part for ever; they find a cursed pleasure in sin, and none in a course of duty: and so, maugre all the entreaties and wooing convictions of the Spirit, they relinquish duty, and return to sin.
3. The Spirit may be opposed in that convincing work, whereby it enables the will to forsake some sins. This work bears some affinity with the former, but it is not altogether the same. I confess, to yield perfect obedience to all God’s commands does include in it a forsaking of all sin, and is consequentially, yea and really, the same with it. But imperfectly to execute some good duties, and imperfectly to leave some sins, which is here intended, are two distinct things. Now that the Spirit is able to work up a soul even to this also, and that the soul is likewise able to frustrate this work, these following scriptures will demonstrate. 2 Peter ii. 20, we have some that by the convincing help of the Spirit had escaped the pollutions of the world, they had 381washed their hands of all those enormities that raged and reigned in the lives of grosser sinners. Yet in the same verse we have these also again entangled and overcome by their lusts; and thereupon compared to the most filthy creatures, which being washed, with much greediness return to their beloved mire and defilements. In Gal. iii. 3, we find some who had begun in the Spirit, yet in danger to have ended in the flesh; so treacherous is sin in its departure, and so violent in its returns. Certainly in these cases it seems to retire and draw back, only to come on afterwards with a greater assault. For the appetite of sin being only restrained, not taken away, it returns after a while with more violent fury upon its object: and like a thirsty man, the longer it has forebore to drink of the pleasures of sin, it takes so much deeper a draught of them at length. Thus sin is only pent up in the soul by main force of the Spirit; but when it finds the least vent, it lashes out to the purpose: some cannot neglect duties as they used to do, because the terrors of God are upon their souls; some dare not venture upon their former lewd courses, because the Spirit meets them with the drawn sword of God’s vengeance, casting the very flashes of hell in their faces, if they step a foot into those ways. So that here the sinner is indeed held in bonds, but his sinful nature is still unchanged; like the devils themselves, who though they are kept in chains, yet they are still devils in chains. The soul has lost the present exercise of sin, yet still retains the faculty: but at length the Spirit having for a long time kept the soul from its lust, as God did Balaam from his covetousness, and still hearing it crying and craving after its beloved 382corruption; even as God let Balaam go upon the like importunity, so the Spirit slacks his hold, and lets the soul loose to its sin. And then it sins at an high rate indeed; better were it for a man never to have given the Spirit any room, any place in his heart, than at length thus to turn it out. We may truly say of this holy guest, turpius ejicitur, quam non admittitur; yea safer had it been for such a soul to have still wallowed in his sin, than being once rescued from it, again to apostatize to it. For this is to sin from choice, and that from choice grounded upon experience; for having tried both ways, to wit, those of the Spirit and those of sin, by such returns to it he does aloud proclaim his judgment to the world that sin is better.
And thus much concerning the second general head, to shew how many ways the Spirit may be resisted: I proceed to the third, to shew the reasons why upon such resistance the Spirit finally withdraws.
1. The first reason is drawn from God’s decree. This is that which bounds all things, and fixes the freest operations of second causes: the event of things in themselves merely contingent, by this degree is stampt certain and infallible. It turns a casualty into a certainty; a contingency into a necessity. And as the actions of the creature are limited and determined by this decree, so the most free actions of God himself come also within the restraining compass of the same. God purposes before he acts, and his purpose it is the measure of his operations: and what God wills, he wills immutably. His wisdom and infinite knowledge foresees and debates all inconveniences antecedently to every act of volition; 383and so there can be no new emergent inconvenience that may unframe his resolutions and cause a change. Accordingly the workings and strivings of God’s Spirit are measured out and bounded by this decree; by virtue of which its departure is firmly and irreversibly intended, and some resistance of it is thereby put beyond pardon. Some think the like of the great sin against the Holy Ghost, that is not unpardonable from its own nature, but from God’s special decree; not because it is of so great malignity as to surpass the extent of God’s mercies, nor yet because it is inconsistent with the means of obtaining pardon; but that God by an act of sovereignty singled out this sin, and for the glory of his justice, and the terror of those that should abuse his grace, passed a decree for ever to exclude it from all possibility of remission. But thus much by way of digression. Now this decree has not any active influence or efficiency, so as actually to produce or put in being the thing decreed. I say the decree itself does not effect the thing, but it engages God’s veracity and immutable truth to see it certainly effected. There is nothing therefore but, if we pursue it to its first original, must of necessity terminate in this decree, as deriving from hence the first rise and reason of its being. I say the reason, though not the cause. In Ephesians i. 11, God is said to work all things according to the counsel of his own will. He resembles an excellent artificer, who in all his works of art has forelaid in his mind a perfect model of his intended fabric, before ever he sets the first hand to it. It is finished in the contrivance, before it is so much as begun in the production. God says, Shall I decree, and shall it 384not come to pass? So by inversion we may say, Shall any thing come to pass, and shall not he decree? Would we know why the Spirit of God departed from Judas, even to the loss and perdition of his soul? We have an account in John xvii. 12; it was, that the scriptures might be fulfilled; that is, that the will or decree of God delivered in scripture concerning Judas might be accomplished.
Now what terrors should this strike into all resisters of the Spirit, all prodigals of the means of grace! Whosoever spends upon mercy, spends upon a set allowance. God has allotted and decreed to every man his portion in the Spirit’s workings, which, by reason of the enforcing power of that decree, he will never extend nor contract, diminish nor augment. And since it is not known to us in what point of our life God has set this fatal bound, as it is a sovereign remedy to prevent despair, that none might unadvisedly conclude against himself, that he had finally resisted the Spirit: so on the other hand it ought to be a strong argument to cut short the outrageous progress of a presuming sinner, since he knows not but the very next sin he is closing with, may separate between him and the Spirit of God for ever. For shall God limit the natural days of our life, beyond which we cannot pass, as it is in Job xiv. 5, and shall the days of the Spirit’s striving with us be undetermined? Certainly what he says of those may be said of the Spirit’s workings, they are all numbered. And that they are so will appear one day, when those exact bills of our accounts, relating all our opposings even of the smallest motions of the Spirit, shall be preferred and read against us. Can we then (as it is expressed in the prophet,) disannul 385God’s covenant with day and night? Can we disappoint or change the ordinances of heaven and earth? Then may we stretch the fixed time of the Spirit’s dealing with our hearts beyond God’s decree. Then may we, when our day of grace is expiring, cause the sun of mercy to go ten degrees backward. Alas! poor inconsiderable, impotent men! We must lay our mouths in the dust, and give way to the irresistible decree of God for ever. Can all the men in the world, by the united force of their power and policy, hinder the sun from setting but for the space of one hour? nay, but of one moment? And can we weak sinful worms prolong our precious day of grace at our pleasure? True it is, the mercy of God is infinite, and his goodness past finding out; but he that has set bars and doors to the sea has also set bounds to this ocean of his mercy, and said, Thus far shall you come in your strivings with such a soul, and no further.
2. The second reason why the Spirit departs upon resistance, is because it is most agreeable to the great intent and design of the gospel. And this is twofold, suitable to which the Spirit does accordingly appropriate a twofold operation.
1. The first great gospel design is the converting and saving the elect; and this is accomplished by an effectual converting power, which in its addresses to the soul is invincible. It does not persuade but overpower; and therefore never fails or miscarries, but effectually converts, sanctifies, and reduces the soul. The infallible success of the work depends upon the irresistible force of the agent: by a happy, alluring, yet efficacious violence it draws; Jeremiah xxxi. 3, With lovingkindness have I drawn thee. 386Wheresoever this power draws, the soul certainly follows: I rather say certainly than necessarily, because necessity may seem to intrench upon the free spontaneity of the will, although it is clear that there is a kind of necessity which is compatible with its freedom. The drawing work of the Spirit it has the strength, but not the violence of coaction, Luke xiv. 23, Compel them to come in. There is a compulsion indeed, but not such an one as is against the will; but such an one as makes it willing. And this alone is sufficient to enervate the objections of those free-willers, that exclaim of coaction and compulsion in an irresistible converting work. Thus therefore the Spirit effects God’s great and primary gospel design, in calling home his sheep, his chosen ones, the objects of his eternal love: and this is done by an effectual, never-failing power in their vocation; by which they are fully instated in their present possession of grace, and sufficiently secured in their hopes of glory for the future.
2. The second end and design of the gospel is to render reprobates inexcusable; and this is no less effectually done by the common enlightening, convincing works of the Spirit, which are sufficient to take off all pleas, to silence them in their own defence, and to enhance their guilt beyond excuse. It is confessed, the converting, renewing work of the Spirit was never vouchsafed to any reprobate; they were never admitted to share in the children’s bread. Yet God’s denial of recovering grace cannot warrant them in a state of sin. All indeed through Adam were generally immersed into an equal plunge of misery, all were forlorn and broke, and as to the stock of their first righteousness totally bankrupt, 387and the law still remains a rigid exactor of obedience. The elect and reprobate both fell from their righteousness, but God was pleased to renew the store of the former, leaving the latter destitute: but may not God even from these require perfect obedience, though they have lost the power to perform it? A creditor does not lose his right to his money, because the debtor is unable to pay. Suppose a creditor have two debtors, and both turn bankrupt; now if he of his own free cost and favour supplies one wherewithal to discharge the debt, may he not therefore demand it of the other without the like supply? Certainly mercy to one does not weaken or take off the procedure of the law against the other; neither our merits nor our misery can lay any obligation upon God’s grace. He that shall dare to cavil and expostulate with his Maker at such a rate of impiety and impudence, as the corrupt heart of man is apt to do; “Is it my fault that I remain unconverted under all my convictions? Had God vouchsafed to me converting grace as he did to others, I had been converted as well as they?” God will answer the expostulations of such men, as he did those, Matt. xx. 13, 15, Friend, I do thee no wrong. Is it not lawful to do with my own free grace as I please? Is thine eye evil and malicious, because I am good? Out of my mercy I bestowed converting grace upon such an unworthy sinner; out of my sovereignty I denied it to another, yet still without any impeachment to my justice. His justice is not at all injured when he confers grace upon one, nor his mercy lessened when he withholds it from another. However a man may for a while please himself in such objections against 388his Creator, and seem to himself to unreason the equity of God’s proceedings; yet there will be a time when the sinner shall stand clearly convinced of the righteousness of God’s dealings in his final departure from him; so as not to be able to plead or reply any thing against him in a rational way to all eternity: and this of all other will be the most stinging consideration, the most irksome and tormenting thought: for if we observe the vilest, the most profligate malefactor, when he stands openly convict, and that by the most pregnant evidence, he is apt to relieve his mind with such poor, perishing, forlorn persuasions, as, that he suffers unjustly, that he has hard measure, and that he smarts in the severe censures of men beyond the merit of his fact; then, I say, the slender comfort even of these apprehensions will fail the sinner. For he shall evidently find and know himself utterly forsaken and rejected by the Spirit, and withal see it most just and righteous that he should be so forsaken. This is that that will most bitterly gnaw and rack the proud heart of a reprobate, when he shall be forced to acknowledge that the Spirit’s departure is not only his punishment, but his desert: he shall then confess, that the Spirit was as real in his workings, as he was peremptory in his resistance: that he was as pathetical and tender in the offers of grace, as he was obstinate in their refusal: that the Spirit with much eagerness would have often stepped between him and the commission of his beloved sin, and that he with as much vehemence rushed into it: that the Spirit had used many forcible arguments to conclude him into duty, and that he still flew off; and when he could not answer them, absolutely denied them. 389All these things, in the dismal remembrance of them, will be like so many vultures devouring and preying upon a self-condemned soul.
But it may be here replied, What needs any continuance of the Spirit’s workings to render a man inexcusable, since the very strivings of the Spirit in natural conscience is sufficient to effect this?
I answer; that it is most true, that even nature itself is able to cut off all excuse from the mind of an awakened sinner: as is clear from Rom. i. 20, where Paul, speaking of the heathen, which were only acted by this principle, says, that they were without excuse. And again, in Rom. ii. 15, we read of their natural consciences excusing and accusing each other, according as their deeds were good or evil. From whence it clearly follows, that the motions of God’s Spirit are continued and vouchsafed to the impenitent under the gospel, not barely to render them inexcusable, but to render them in a greater measure inexcusable, and to charge their impenitence with greater aggravations: for God intending to the reprobates different degrees of punishments, it is requisite that in order to it, he should present their sins under different aggravations.
And thus we see God’s two great gospel designs; the first of them to convert the elect, which is effected by the extraordinary power of the Spirit; the second to bereave the reprobate of excuse, which is accomplished by the ordinary strivings of it, in those convictions which in their issue prove ineffectual: so that now the Spirit having finished the end for which those workings were continued, what in reason can follow, but the end being acquired, those 390workings should cease? In human actions designed for the attainment of any end, when it is actually attained, the continuation of that action is irrational and absurd. And what is unsavoury and unbeseeming in the actions of men, shall we ascribe to those of the Spirit? A man may with as much reason set his reapers to work when he has finished his harvest, or set his labourers to prune and lop his trees, which by his own appointment they have already cut down, as the Spirit continue his strivings after he has fully accomplished God’s end upon any sinner. He is sent only as God’s agent or ambassador to do his message, and for a while to negotiate his business with the hearts of the impenitent, not to take up his fixed dwelling or habitation with them. Therefore it is most rational, that having done his message, and finished his embassy, he should depart.
3. The third ground or reason why God withdraws his Spirit upon our resistance, is because it highly tends to the vindication of his honour.
Now God may vindicate his honour two ways in the Spirit’s departure.
1. As it is a punishment to the sinner, that has dishonoured him. God’s glory cannot be repaired but by the misery of the party that made a breach upon it. God cannot be glorious, till the offender is made miserable. Now this is a punishment exactly correspondent to the sin, that is totally spiritual. For can there be a greater punishment for a sinner, than to be permitted to take a full swing in the free satisfaction of his lust? When God bereaves a soul of his Spirit, there is, as I may say, a decree passed in the court of heaven, in respect of that soul, for liberty and toleration in sin. In 391this sense there is no distinction between the evil of sin and the evil of punishment; for the evil of sin is the greatest evil of punishment. If a man possessed with phrensy should endeavour to drown or stab himself, and being forcibly withheld, should fight and strive to have his will; could there be any greater punishment for his fighting and striving, than to be delivered over to the free execution of his intended mischief? We find the children of Israel grieving, and even fretting God’s Spirit, in Ezek. xvi. 43, Thou hast fretted me in all these things. Now what course does God take to revenge himself? Does he threaten them with the sword, with famine and desolation? Does he give them over as a prey to their enemies, to be insulted over by a bitter captivity? No; but, what is worse, that he may inflict spiritual judgments, he causes temporal judgments to cease; in verse 42, I will make my fury toward thee to rest, and my jealousy shall depart from thee, and I will be quiet, and will be no more angry: that is, his anger should grow to that height, that it should be too great to be outwardly expressed: it should burn inwardly: and so it is much more dreadful. The wind when it breaks forth, it only shakes the trees; but when it is pent up and restrained within the ground, it makes the very earth shake and tremble. Questionless, there is not an expression in all God’s word, that does more fully and terribly hold forth God’s anger, than this wherein he says he will be angry no more. It is clear therefore that God cannot vindicate his honour by inflicting a greater evil upon those that despise his Spirit, than by withdrawing it. Then God punishes the unjust man in a fearful way, when 392he inflicts that matchless curse in Revel. xxii. 11, and says, He that is unjust, let him be unjust still. Then does he take the sorest vengeance of the unclean person, when he withdraws the pure motions of his holy Spirit, and says, He that is filthy, let him be filthy still. No penalty for sin so dreadful, as a liberty to continue in sin.
2. God may vindicate his honour by clearing his injured attributes from those aspersions that human mistakes might charge upon them: for upon God’s merciful, patient continuance of his Spirit, after long opposition made against it, from the facility of God’s forbearance, men are prone to conceive otherwise of God, than is either consistent with their duty or his honour. But now, by thus withdrawing of his Spirit, he does eminently vindicate and recover the repute of his injured attributes, and of these two especially.
1. Of his wisdom. 2. Of his mercy.
1. He vindicates and asserts the honour of his wisdom. I confess it is downright atheism to deny God’s wisdom in words, and few will do it. But corruption is apt to think what atheism only will avouch. And there is a language of the heart which speaks clear enough to God’s dishonour, though not to our hearing. The voice of it in such a case is, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most high? Psalm lxxiii. 11. Is it for God’s wisdom to offer what he knows will be rejected; and to multiply his entreaties, that the sinner may only have occasion to multiply affronts? Is it prudence to urge and press a man with the continual offers of that thing, which we know him to be fully resolved for ever to refuse? Amongst men there is 393none but the covetous and the foolish that offer their gifts to those who they are sure will not accept them. He that shall give with the same importunity that others ask, and shall entreat men to receive his favours, plays the beggar in the midst of his liberality. Now as long as the Spirit prorogues his workings after an obstinate resistance of them, so long he only seeks and sues for a repulse; he courts an affront. It is mercy at first for God to send his Spirit; but when it is slighted, it is wisdom to revoke it.
2. He vindicates the honour of his mercy. Such is the vileness of men, that even from mercy itself they take occasion to blaspheme mercy. For by thus presuming upon it, they do not so much think or speak, as act their blasphemies against it. He that goes on to sin against mercy, he either thinks that God knows it not, and so cannot punish him; or that he is of so impregnable a clemency that he will not. But as the former of these strikes at God’s omniscience, so the latter at his mercy. For this is not properly mercy, but fondness; that is, an irrational mercy; which we cannot add to God’s nature, but by such additions we should diminish and detract from his perfection.
Now God by the departure of his Spirit vindicates the honour of his mercy in a double respect.
1. By shewing that it is no ways inferior, much less contrary to his holiness. God’s attributes do not interfere nor clash: the exercise of one does not justle out the other: they are at perfect agreement: and mercy will not enlarge itself to such a pitch as holiness will not warrant. God will let the resisters of his Spirit see, that as he was merciful to endure them so long, so he is too holy to bear with them any longer. For during the time of his forbearance, the repute of his holiness lies at stake. What glory did God gain to his mercy, as it is in Psalm l. by bearing with such as consented with thieves, as were partakers with adulterers, as gave their mouth to slanders and reproaches? I say, what glory did he gain in verse 21, These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; and thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself? Here we see, in recompence of his forbearance, they question his righteousness; and from his permission conclude also his approbation of their wickedness.
2. God in this vindicates the honour of his mercy, by making it clear that it is not repugnant to his justice: nay, that it is not only not repugnant to it, but also makes way for a severer execution of it: and from hence God may be said not only to be merciful because he will be merciful, but because he will be just. Mercy neither can nor will rescue an impenitent sinner from the hand of justice. All the time that the infinite mercy of God is striving and dealing with the heart of an obstinate sinner, his justice is like a sleeping lion, ready to tear him in pieces whensoever God shall awaken it. It is reported of Dionysius, that setting to sea after he had pillaged a temple, and having a very prosperous voyage, he cried out, O quam diis placet sacrilegium! How are the gods pleased with sacrilege! The case of the obstinate sinner is not much unlike: when men in the full pursuit of their sins find themselves yet followed by the fresh gales of the Spirit blowing upon their hearts, they are apt to conclude, that God will still wait 395their leisure, that these motions will be perpetual, and that therefore they may take their own time to accept of those terms, that they suppose will be always offered: and consequently they will venture to swear once more, to wantonize once again, to take another sip or two of the cup of intemperance, till the Spirit departs of a sudden, and leaves them in a state of irrecoverable hardness and perdition. As children, when they play by the seashore, they will in sport step a little into the water, and presently a foot further, and so on, till the tide unexpectedly comes, and sweeps them away beyond all possibility of return. As long as an obdurate sinner goes on resisting the Spirit, even the angels of heaven cry to God, How long, O Lord, holy and just! Where is the glory of thy holiness, and thy zeal for thy justice, that thou dost thus suffer so provoking, and yet so contemptible a creature to make a progress in his rebellion, to abuse thy grace, and to affront thy Spirit? Now the righteous God is here even engaged to withdraw his Spirit, and to vindicate the honour of his mercy by the exercise of his justice.
4. God withdraws his Spirit upon resistance, because this naturally raises in the hearts of men an esteem and valuation of the Spirit’s workings: and the reason of this is, because in so doing, men apparently see that God himself puts an esteem and value upon them, otherwise why should he so severely bereave men of them upon their abuse? Were it not a treasure, God would not be so choice of it. God shewed what a value he put upon his vineyard, by taking it from those husbandmen who had misemployed it.
The great God is not jealous for a trifle. God can 396continue worldly riches to men even when they abuse them; but if a spiritual talent be misimproved, it must be taken away. Now upon whatsoever God shews his esteem, it is natural for men, acting rationally, to place theirs.
Now the esteem that the departure of the Spirit begets upon their minds is twofold.
1. An esteem of fear. For this, like the rest of God’s judgments, is poena ad unum, terror ad omnes; a punishment indeed to one, but a terror to all. God in every punishment does not intend revenge so much as example. We read how the Spirit departed from Saul: and certainly God designed it not only for a judgment upon him, but also for a document of fear to others; otherwise, why do these things stand upon eternal record in scripture? Questionless the thought of this would put a stop to any sober sinner; it would give a restriction to his appetite: and if there be any thing that keeps the sinner from causing the Spirit to depart, it is the fear of his departure. Men are usually ruled and instructed by their fears. It is the height of spiritual prudence to draw caution from danger, to distil instruction from punishments. And from a serious consideration of the Spirit’s final departure from others, to secure it in its abode with ourselves.
2. The thought of this begets in the minds of the godly an esteem of love. When they shall know that God withdraws his Spirit from the unworthy abusers of it, and yet continues it to themselves notwithstanding all their unworthiness, if there be any but the least grain of pious ingenuity in them, they cannot but reflect upon this distinguishing love of God with melting returns of love and affection. For who is 397there, even amongst the most holy of men, but reflecting upon his own heart must of necessity confess, Is there not with me also an opposition to the Spirit, as well as in others? yet the Spirit has for ever departed from them, and still abides working and striving with me. Singularity puts a value and endearment upon mercy. Enjoyments that are peculiar are usually precious.
Application. You have heard that there is a set time, after which the Spirit, being resisted, will cease to strive, and depart: you have also heard how many ways it may be resisted; and withal, the several grounds and reasons why it will withdraw upon such resistance. And now, what can be more seasonable than to wrap up all in the apostle’s own exhortation, 1 Thess. v. 19, Quench not the Spirit. It is clear therefore that it may be quenched. And if so, it will be our prudence to avoid all those courses that may not only quench, but even cool it in its workings. Let every one be as careful and tender of grieving the Spirit, as he would be of grieving his only and his dearest friend. Believe it, it is this Spirit alone that is able to stand by and comfort you in all the disconsolate and dark passages of your lives. When he is gone, who shall resolve and clear up all the doubts of our misgiving and trembling consciences? who shall subdue all our corruptions? who shall bear up our desponding souls in the midst of afflictions? who shall ward off the force and fire of temptations? Our own deceiving hearts, an alluring world, a tempting Devil, and all the powers of sin and hell, will be let loose upon us: and, what is the greatest misery of all, being deprived of the Spirit, we shall have nothing to oppose them; no second to assist us. 398Be ready therefore to entertain it in all its motions; to cherish all its suggestions: whensoever it knocks at the door of your hearts, (as it often does,) stand prepared to open to it, and receive it with joy. When it speaks to you in the word, answer, as Samuel did, Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears. When it seems to pull you from sin, and says, Do not that abominable thing which my soul hates; draw back your hands from the commission of it, and do it not for a world. When it enables you to relinquish and forsake some sins, never rest till you have forsaken them all. When it raises you to the performance of some good duties, still press forward to perfection: let every holy motion and desire be improved into an holy action: but if you should at any time chance to grieve or oppose him, (as we do all of us too, too frequently,) yet be sure that you persist not in it, but recover yourselves by a speedy and a serious humiliation. Mourn over your disobedience, pray fervently for an obedient heart. Assuredly you will hereafter find, that it is better thus to strive with God in prayer, than with the Spirit in his workings. Now as arguments to dissuade or deter you from this, and withal to persuade and excite you to the former, take these motives.
1st, Our resisting of the Spirit in his precepts and instructions will certainly bereave us of his comforts. Now the office of the Spirit consists in these two great works, to instruct and to comfort. The same Spirit that in John xvi. 7 is termed a Comforter, in the thirteenth verse is said to be a guide to lead into all truth. Where we must note, that his comforting work always presupposes and follows his work of instruction; yea, and it is dispensed to men as a 399reward for their obedience to that; nay, before this work pass upon the soul, it is not capable of the other. For the Spirit to pour in comfort to an impure heart, before it is qualified and cleansed, and as it were prepared, by its instructing, convincing work; it is as if a physician should administer cordials to a corrupt, foul body; they would do much more hurt than good, till the ill humours are purged and evacuated. He that will not be reformed cannot be comforted. God has inseparably joined these two together, and therefore it is presumption for any to hope to divide and put them asunder; as it is in Rom. xiv. 17, righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost go linked together. Purity and spiritual joy are as closely united as sin and sorrow. It is in vain to catch at one and balk the other. He that will not obey the Spirit as his instructor shall never enjoy him as his comforter.
Now the reason that such as resist the Spirit cannot enjoy his comforts is, because this resistance is inconsistent with those ways by which the Spirit speaks comfort; and these are two.
1. The Spirit speaks comfortably, by giving a man to understand his interest in Christ, and consequently in the love of God. But it is impossible for him that resists the Spirit to be sure of any of these, inasmuch as he falls under those qualifications that render a man the proper object of God’s hatred, and totally estranged from Christ; 1 John iii. 6, Whosoever abideth in Christ sinneth not; and whosoever sinneth hath neither seen nor known him. I suppose it will be easily granted, that he who acts in a continual repugnancy to God’s Spirit, by a despisal of all his holy motions and suggestions, sins, and that at a very 400high strain; and upon this concession, this scripture will unavoidably conclude him so far unacquainted with Christ, as neither to have seen nor known him. And can we rationally imagine, that he who has neither seen nor known Christ can have any sure interest in him? He that is interested in Christ is his friend; John xv. 15, I call you not servants, but friends: but he that is not so much as an acquaintance cannot possibly be a friend. And for any interest in God’s love, he is totally excluded from that; Psalm xi. 5, The wicked his soul hateth. And such are all resisters of God’s Spirit, wicked in the highest, κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, and by way of eminence. Now how can the Spirit convey comfort to such persons? To whom if he reports the truth, as the Spirit of truth can do no otherwise, he must tell them that they are aliens to Christ, strangers to the covenant, enemies to God, haters of him, and therefore hated by him. Now if these can be arguments of comfort, then he that resists God’s Spirit may be comforted.
2. The second way by which the Spirit comforts a man, is by discovering to him that grace that is within him; that is, not only by clearing up God’s love to him, but also by making him see his love to God. The strength of this, as it is an argument of comfort, lies here. Because our love to God it is the proper effect, and therefore the infallible sign of God’s love to us, which is the great basis and foundation of all comfort. We therefore love because we were first beloved. But can the love of God abide in him who resists and does despite to his Spirit? Can any one at the same time fight like an enemy and love like a friend? The sinner cannot give any true evidence of his love to God, inasmuch as a continual, 401obstinate resistance of the Spirit is inconsistent with grace; and it implies a contradiction for any one to love God, and to oppose that Spirit, that is a Spirit of love.
And thus it is clear, that such as resist the Spirit’s strivings cannot share in his comforts. And how unconceivably sad and miserable it is to want them, none knows so much as those that have wanted them. If God should let loose all the sorest afflictions of this life upon you, and should awaken your consciences to accuse you, and withal possess your guilty, despairing souls with a lively sense of his wrath for sin, and fill you with the terrors of hell, so that you should even roar by reason of the disquietness of your hearts, as he had done to some, and particularly to David, you would then know what it is to have the Spirit as a comforter. However, when you come to look death in the face, and are upon your passage into eternity, and presently to appear before God in judgment, then you will prize the comforts of the Spirit. And if you ever hope to enjoy them at that disconsolate hour, beware how you resist his strivings now.
The second motive why we should comply with the Spirit is, because the resisting of it brings a man under hardness of heart and a reprobate sense. Now a man is then said to be under a reprobate sense, when he has lost all spiritual feeling; so that when heaven and the joys thereof are displayed before him, he is not at all affected with desire; when hell and wrath and eternal misery are held forth to him, he is not moved with terror.
Now resisting of the Spirit brings this hardness upon the heart two ways.402
1. By way of natural causation. Hardness of heart is the proper issue and effect of this resistance. Every act of opposition to the Spirit disposes the soul to resist it further; as the reception of one degree of heat disposes the subject to receive the second, and the second the third, till it arrives to the highest. And the more frequent the Spirit’s workings have been, the heart grows more insensible and hard; as a path, by often being trod, is daily more and more hardened. Custom in sin produces boldness in sin; and we know boldness is for the most part grounded upon the insensibility of danger.
2. This resistance brings hardness of heart, by way of a judicial curse from God. It causes God to suspend his convincing and converting grace; whereupon the sinner is more and more established and confirmed in his sin. It is not to be questioned but the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart at the time of his destruction had in it something of punishment as well as sin; and was penally inflicted upon him as a judgment for his irrational hardness under God’s former judgments. I shall allege no more examples; this is sufficient to demonstrate how dreadful a thing it is to be punished with an hard heart. It is this alone, to say no more of it, that renders all the means of a man’s salvation utterly ineffectual.
The third motive is, because resisting of the Spirit puts a man in the very next disposition to the great and unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost. For this dreadful sin is only a greater kind of resistance of the Spirit. And all the foregoing acts of resistance are like so many degrees and steps leading to this. For since a man cannot presently and on the sudden arrive to the highest pitch of sin, there are 403required some previous antecedent dispositions to enlarge, and, as it were, make room in the heart for the admission of so great a sin as this. All former oppositions of the Spirit empty their malignity into this one, which virtually includes them all, as rivers empty themselves into the sea. It is confessed a man may frequently oppose the Spirit, and yet not commit this great sin; yet none ever committed this sin, but such as had before frequently resisted the Spirit. Some indeed make the sin against the Holy Ghost to be only a blasphemous rejection of the external objective testimony of the Spirit, that is, of his miracles, by which he attested the truth of the gospel, so as to ascribe them to the Devil. But as for a wilful, malicious opposing of the internal, efficient persuasion of the Spirit upon the heart, they doubt whether the nature of man is capable of such an act. Here, not to exclude the former from being the sin against the Holy Ghost, certain it is, that the general judgments of divines do agree in the latter. And Hebrews vi. 4, 5, 6, seems not obscurely to evince the same.
And thus you have seen that way marked out before you that leads to the sin against the Holy Ghost. Therefore it nearly concerns all resisters of the Spirit to bethink themselves whither they are going, and to beware that they do not slide into that that is unpardonable. It is wisdom timely to depart from your sins, before the Spirit finally departs from you. I hope there is none here that either has or ever shall commit this great sin; yet consider, which certainly is terror enough to a considering mind, that if you go on, and still proceed to resist the Spirit, it is possible that you may. And in things that concern the everlasting ruin of an immortal soul, miserum est 404posse si veils. It is a miserable and a dangerous thing to be able eternally to undo yourselves if you will. Wherefore I should now entreat and advise all, as they desire the comforts of the Spirit, as they tender the good of their precious, never-dying souls, as they wish for the unspeakable satisfaction of a peaceable conscience, as they hope to enjoy the refreshing sense of God’s love here, and to behold his face with joy hereafter, that they would forbear to resist the strivings of the Spirit; for if we still go on further and further, till we come to resist him so far, he will then seal and fit us for wrath and judgment in this world, and then actually deliver us up to it in the next.405
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