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The condition of all natural men is the same. They are all "under the curse" of God. They are all "children of wrath." Some of them are" not far from the kingdom of God;" but however near they may be to it, they are not in it. However near the manslayer was to the city of refuge, he was liable to be slain by the avenger of blood if he was found without the gates.
"They that are in the flesh cannot please God." They may pray with great ardor, but their ardor can originate in no principle that can give them the shadow of a title to divine acceptance. God will certainly disappoint no desires that he has laid himself under any obligations to gratify. He will fulfil his own promises, in whatever form the promise has been given; but he is laid under no obliga tion, by the false constructions that selfish men may put upon any part of his word. "Add not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar."
But if the utmost degree of that seriousness which is the effect of natural principles does not insure to us the grace of God, what need is there of that enquiry which was proposed to be the second part of this discourse?
WHETHER those who diligently use the means of grace are more likely to obtain it than those who neglect them; or who are careless in the use of them?
To this I answer, that God gives us many things which we have no ground to claim from him. I might have said, that he gives us all things out of the riches of his bounty, when we have no claim upon him for any thing. But he has given us a claim upon his goodness, and even upon his righteousness, for those things which he has promised; and therefore Paul speaks as if God could not be righteous, if he should forget the works and labors of love to his people, for his name's sake, Heb. vi. 9. But besides these things, he gives to men many precious blessings out of the riches of his goodness. "He is found of them that sought him not.' He gives food and raiment, and all things richly to enjoy, to those whom, without violation of any of his engagements, he might cast into hell.
Paul declares, Rom. iii. 2. that the Jews had much advantage every way over the gentiles, and yet he says a few verses after, ver. g. that the Jews were no better than the Gentiles. They were both guilty before God. They
stood in equal need of justification by free. grace, and yet the one had great advantage. over the other. How?"Chiefly, because unto them were committed the oracles of God. These words seem to be a sufficient answer to the question before us. If it is a great advantage to possess the oracles of God, it must be a great advantage to make use of them; for of what use can it be to possess any thing without using it? The miser is not reckoned richer than the poorest beggar in the country, because he can derive no greater advantage from the wealth which he hoards up, than the beggar from the pittance which he receives from the hand of charity. The poverty of the one is voluntary, that of the other forced; but the first is not more easily remedied than the second. It is easier for a man who wants money to obtain it, than for a man of a sordid turn of mind, to find a remedy for that mental disorder, which makes him the object of pity and contempt.
Let us more particularly consider,
1. Why God hath given his word, and appointed his ordinances. Is it not for the conversion of sinners, as well as for the edification of believers?" He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers that they should make them known unto their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children that should be born, who
should arise and declare them unto their chil dren." For what end? "That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and a rebellious generation, a generation that set not their hearts aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God." Psal. lxxviii. 5,-8.
But on whom
Surely God does not appoint means that are not likely to serve the ends for which they are appointed. Or if they have no natural vir tue for that purpose, he did not appoint them without intending to give them virtue. It was his will that the knowlege and fear of his name should be maintained in Israel. For this end, "he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel." was it to operate for the end designed? Not surely on those who paid no kind of regard to it. Such despisers of God were likely to feel the severest effects of his displeasure; because when he wrote to them the great things. of his law, they were counted a strange thing. In Jeremiah's time, the law of the Lord hadno effect upon the minds of men, because they would not give it an attentive hearing.
"To whom shall I speak and give warning that they may hear?" said the weeping prophet, "behold their ear is uncircumcised that they cannot hearken; behold the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach, and they have no delight in it."
He commanded the fathers to make known his testimony to the children, that they might know the Lord, and set their hope in him.Can it then be imagined, that they were not more likely to set their hope in God, when their parents did every thing in their power to communicate the knowlege of the works of God to their posterity, than if they had been quite silent? If this is the case, God imposed on his people a very useless trouble.
"Go ye into the world, and preach the gospel to every creature," said our Lord to his disciples; "He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved." Go and make all nations disciples. Who will say that they might as likely have become disciples, although the apostles had never executed their commission, or although the people among whom they went had not given them a hearing? Mark xvi. 15. 16. Matt. xxviii. 19.
2. Consider who those nations are among whom saints in every age have been found.
The people of Israel in Moses' days were a very stiff-necked generation. They would not believe in God, although daily iniracles were wrought among them; yet where were so many saints to be found as among them? name that place of the world where they dwelt. Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, appears to have believed in the true God. Perhaps there was some remains of piety among Abraham's descendents by his concubines, Yet we know