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awakened? O, saith one, seven or eight years ago I heard such a sermon, which tore my conscience to pieces ; I fell under such a providence, which roused and awakened all my fears; but since that time, all has been still and quiet. May the Lord give you a second awakening, lest you awake with the flames of God's wrath about you. I observe it is usual, when God works upon any very early in life, he knocks thus intermittingly: now the conscience is active, and full of trouble, then the vanities of youth extinguish these convictions again; but the Lord follows his design, and at last the conviction settles and ends in conversion.
6. Christ sometimes knocks with both hands at once, with the word and the rod together; the latter in subserviency to the former; and if ever the soul is likely to open, it will open then, when ordinances and afflictions work together. The word smites the conscience with conviction, and at or about the same time Providence smites the outward man with some affliction, to make the word effectual ; or, under some smart affliction, a suitable word is seasonably directed to the conscience; and thus the one assists the other, and both together produce the desired effect. Thus the Lord wrought upon the Thessalonians: “And ye became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction.” 1 Thess. 1:6. A child dies, an estate is lost, or sickness seizes you at the time when conscience is prepared by a conviction from the word, or afflictions have prepared it for the word. The rod upon the back helps the word to work upon the heart; and if both these working in fellowship will not do the work, there is little hope that any thing will do it.
7. Every knock of Christ disturbs the sinful rest of the soul ; it rouses guilt in the conscience, and puts the inner man into great distress and trouble. Before Christ comes and knocks at the door of the heart, all is still and quiet within : the soul is in a quiet sleep of sinful security, no fears or troubles molest its rest. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted.” Luke 11:21, 22. The armor which Satan puts into the hands of sinners, to defend themselves against the convictive strokes of the word, are the general mercy of God, the outward duties of religion, partial reformations, etc. But when Christ comes by effectual conviction, he disarms the sinner of all these pleas, and then the soul sees what broken reeds it has leaned upon. “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,” Rom. 7:9; all my vain hopes expired. No artifice of Satan can any longer quiet the sinner's conscience; he sees himself in a miserable condition, and meditates an escape ; farewell now to sound and quiet sleep: no peace till out of danger.
8. Every effectual knock of Christ gives an alarm to hell, and puts Satan to all his shifts and arts to secure the possession of the convinced sinner. The devil is a jealous spirit, and when his interest is in danger he bestirs himself to purpose ; the time of conviction is an hour of temptation. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Eph. 6:12. The strife between Satan and the soul is now for nothing less than the prize of eternal life; it is now for all or none, for life or death, for heaven or hell. The powers of hell are now all in arms to destroy convictions, and secure the possession of the soul against Christ; as when a grenade falls into a garrison, the first care of the defendant is to stifle it before it break. While Christ is speaking by his Spirit in one ear, the devil is whispering in the other ; and the things he whispers to quench convictions are usually such as these : There is time enough yet, why such haste ? Enjoy thy pleasures a little longer, thou mayest come to
Christ and be saved at last. If that will not do, then he changes his voice: To what purpose wilt thou go to Christ? It is now too late, the time of grace is over; hadst thou come to him in thy youth, and obeyed his first call, you had been saved; but now it is to no purpose. If this will not quiet the soul, then he says, Thy sins are too great to be pardoned; there is no hope for such a prodigious sinner as thou art. If the Lord help the soul to overcome this by discovering to it the riches of mercy, pardoning the greatest of sinners, then he represents the multitudes who are in the same case with the convinced sinner : Come, fear not; if it go ill with thee, it will be as bad for millions of others; if thou go to hell, thousands will go with thee. But if the soul be unwilling to be lost, even with so many others, then he bids it look upon the train of troubles and afflictions that come along with Christ, and will certainly follow him, if the door be open to let him in: If Christ come in, reproaches, losses, and sufferings will come in with him; troops of miseries follow him: he himself has told thee so; and art thou mad to ruin all thy comforts in the world, and plunge thyself into a sea of trouble for what thine eyes never saw? But if the soul reply, These are more tolerable than damnation ; better that my flesh suffer for a time, than my soul be cast away for ever; then he represents the insuperable difficulties of religion : What a hard thing it is to be saved; how many painful duties and acts of mortification the soul must pass through. Thus you see what an alarm conviction gives to the powers of hell.
9. Every effectual knock of Christ is continued ; new convictions revive former ones, and the Lord never ceases to knock till the door is opened. If one sermon will not do, another shall; if one wound be healed by the art of Satan, a fresh wound shall be made; if a former conviction vanish, the next shall be sealed upon the soul: and when the Spirit of the Lord sealeth a conviction upon the conscience, raze it out who can. And here is the difference between special and common convictions : common convictions come and go; they put the soul in a fright for a day or a month, and then trouble it no more for ever; but special convictions will be continued, one thing following another, for Christ is in pursuit of the soul, and will pursue it, till at last he overtake it.
10. All the knocks of Christ cease when the sinner's day of grace is ended. This is a dreadful consideration when the time of mercy is over, no more strivings of the Spirit. Christ says to the drowsy sinner, as to the drowsy disciples in the garden, “Sleep on now, and take your rest.' Matt. 26:45. I called thee in such a sermon, but thou heardest not; by such a providence, but thou obeyedst not: sleep on now, and take thy rest. “My people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up to their own hearts' lust, and they walked in their own counsels.” Psa. 81:11, 12. I have done with them, the treaty is ended; I will make no more essays towards their conversion and salvation. “So I gave them up." Methinks it sounds as much as this : Take them, sin-take them, Satan, I will have no more to do with them. “Ephraim is joined to idols : let him alone.” Hosea 4:17. His heart is glued fast to sin, he is enamoured with other lovers, let him alone. O beloved, it is a dreadful thing for God to say, Let this man alone in his formality, and that man in his carnal security. Let not this be misapplied by trembling souls under conviction. I know the fear of this judgment is upon their hearts; nothing makes them tremble more than lest the day of grace be ended with them. But there is no ground for this fear, while the Spirit continues convincing and the soul trembling lest his convictions should prove ineffectual. Thus much of the nature, instruments, and manner of Christ's knocking at the door of a sinner's heart. Our way is now opened to an application of this point, which I will present in several particulars.
INFERENCE 1. Into how deep a sleep hath sin cast the souls of sinners, that Christ must stand so long, and give such loud repeated knocks, before it will awake and open to him! There is the spirit of a deep sleep fallen upon men, like that into which God cast Adam. God speaks once, yea, twice, but man regards it not; it is the hardest thing in the world to rouse and awaken a man out of his carnal security. Look over Satan's kingdom, and you find a general stillness and quietness among his subjects : there is no trouble for sin, no strivings after salvation, no crying out, “What must I do to be saved ?" Acts 16:30. Go into the crowds of worldly men and women, and you find them all intent and busy about other matters. How long will you be in their company before you hear one groan for sin, or see one tear fall from their eyes on that account. O what a marvellous thing is here! Do not their consciences know the guilt that lies upon them? Are they not aware of a day of reckoning which approaches ? Yes, yes, these things are not hid from their consciences. What art, then, is used to keep them so still and quiet? Why, there are divers means used to still the consciences of sinners, and they do it effectually. There are four causes and occasions of this wonderful stillness in the souls of sinners.
(1.) Ignorance of the nature of regenerating grace— taking that for regeneration which is not such : thus did the Jews confidently affirm God to be their God, yet they did not know him. John 8:54. How many poor ignorant creatures think there is no need of any other work of regeneration, but what passed upon them in baptism. They were born and baptized Christians, and that is enough, they think, to save them. “We have Abraham to our father.” Matt. 3:9. They thought it sufficient that Abraham's blood ran in their veins, though there were not a spark of Abraham's faith kindled in their souls. The Lord forgive the sin of those men who lead souls into such fatal mistakes.