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O if men were but aware of the necessity of a greater and further work to pass on their souls than their baptism, pow. erless profession, or the similar works which appear in formal hypocrites, heaven and earth would ring with their cries. But ignorance of the nature and necessity of special regenerating grace, like a dose of opium, casts the consciences of many into this deep sleep.
(2.) Freedom from grosser sins and pollutions of the world stills and quiets the consciences of thousands : they have had a sober and fair education ; and though there is no grace and regeneration, yet what saints do they seem to themselves, being adorned with sobriety and civility. This stilled the conscience of the Pharisee: “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” Luke 18:11. Thus, like delicate Agag, they pride themselves in moral and social virtues, wherein many thousands of the heathen were better than themselves; but justice will hew them to pieces, as Agag was, notwithstanding all their moral ornaments and endowments.
(3.) The strict performance of the external duties of religion quiets the consciences of many. They question not but those who do so well shall fare well, and flatter themselves that God will never damn men and women who keep their church and say their prayers as they do. Thus the carnal Jews deluded themselves, crying, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, are these.” Jer. 7:4. As malefactors, in some countries, flee to the church from the hand of justice, so do these ; but God will pluck them from the horns of the altar, and convince them that the empty name of religion is no security from damnation.
(4.) Many consciences are quieted in a natural, sinful state, by misinterpreting the voice of providence. It may be that God prospers your earthly affairs, succeeds and smiles upon your undertakings; and this you conclude must be a token of his love and favor. But alas, this is a great mistake: may the Lord give you better evidences of his love than these ; for who prosper more in the world than wicked men? And who are more crossed than the people of God? Read Job 21, and Psalm 73, and compare both with Eccl. 9:1, and you will quickly see the vanity of all hopes built on such a foundation. But by such things as these the god of this world blinds the eyes of multitudes.
2. If every conviction be a knock of Christ, how deeply are we all concerned in the success of convictions. Conviction is an embryo of the new creature : if it come to a perfect new birth, it brings forth salvation to your souls; if it fails, you are finally lost. It is of infinite moment, therefore, to every one, to be tender of these convictions of conscience. It is true, conviction and conversion are two things : there may be conviction without conversion, though there can be no conversion without conviction. The blossoms on the trees in the spring of the year cannot properly be called fruit, but are rather the rudiments of fruit, or something in order to fruit. If they open kindly, and knit or set firmly, perfect fruit follows them ; but if a blight or a frosty morning kill them, no fruit is to be expected. Thus it is here. Great care, therefore, ought to be taken about the preservation and success of convictions, both by the soul itself that is under them, and by all others who are concerned about them.
(1.) What care should the soul itself have, on whom convictions are wrought. Beware, friends, how you quench them or hinder their operations, lest you hinder, as much as in you lies, the formation of Christ in your souls. The life of your souls is bound up in the life of your convictions. I know it is hard for men to dwell with their own convictions : guilt and wrath are sad subjects for men's thoughts to dwell upon; but it is far better to dwell with the thoughts of sin and wrath here, than to lie under them in hell for ever. You may be freed from your convictions and your salvation together. Be not too eager after peace-a good trouble is better than a false peace. And on the other hand, beware that your convictions turn not into discouragements to faith ; this will cross the proper intention of them : they are Christ's knocks for entrance, and were never intended to be bars or stumbling-blocks, but steps in your way to Christ.
(2.) Let all that are concerned about convinced souls, beware what counsels they give and what rules they prescribe, lest they destroy all in the bud. • There are two errors too commonly committed : one in excess, persuading souls under trouble of conscience that there is no coming to Christ for them, unless they are so and so prepared, humbled just to such a degree : this is dangerous counsel; it overheats the troubles of conscience, and keeps the soul from its proper present duty and remedy. I am sure Paul and Silas took no such course with the convinced jailer, Acts 16:31, nor Peter with the three thousand wounded consciences, Acts 2:38. Nor do I find where God has stated the time and degree of spiritual troubles, so that there must be no approaches to Christ in the way of faith, until they have suffered them so long and to such a height. If they have imbittered sin to the soul, and made it see the necessity of a Saviour, it cannot move too soon after Christ in the way of faith. Let no man set bounds where God sets none.
There is another error committed in defect ;-when promises and comforts are applied before the nature of faith is known, or one act of reliance put forth towards Christ. These hasty comforts come to nothing; they will not, they cannot stand. It is a dangerous thing to apply gospel-cordials, and pour out the precious ointment of the promises upon them who were never heart-sick for sin—to address to such persons upon every slight trouble, which is but as an early dew, the peculiar consolations of penitent and believing souls. How many such unskilful empirics are there in
every place! Such as the prophet Jeremiah complains of: “ They have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.” Jer. 6:14. Remember, that the foundation is now laying for eternity, and that this is the time of deep consideration; men must ponder the terms and count the cost, and deliberately accept and close with Christ, before the consolations of the promises can properly be administered to them. .
3. What a blessing is a rousing, faithful ministry among a people. By such a ministry Christ knocks powerfully: this is one of the greatest blessings God can bestow upon a people, when he sends among them powerful and judicious preachers of the gospel, under whose ministry their consciences cannot sleep quietly. These are the instruments by which Christ knocks at men's hearts; and as for those that sew pillows for drowsy sinners to sleep quietly upon, the Lord owns them not as his. “Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity.” Lam. 2:14.
It is true that those ministers that give men no rest and quietness in their sins, must expect but little rest and quietness themselves. What is it for ministers to preach home to the consciences of others, but to pull down the rage of the world upon their own heads ? But certainly you will have cause to bless God to eternity, for casting your lot under such a ministry; and the Lord accounts such a mercy sufficient to recompense any outward affliction that lies upon you. You fare richly under such doctrine, though the Lord should feed you with the bread of affliction, and give you the waters of adversity to drink; this makes amends for all. Thine eyes shall behold thy teachers, and they shall be driven no more into corners. Isa. 30:20. O blessed be God that England's corners are this day emptied, that its pulpits may be filled with laborious, faithful ministers. O that the knocks of Christ may be heard in all the cities,
towns, and villages of this nation. The kingdom of God is come nigh unto us; this mercy is invaluable : pray that the Lord may continue it, and make all your ministers and means, whether public or private, successful.
4. Let all men beware of whatever may deafen their ears and drown the sound of Christ's knocks and calls in the gospel. What pernicious enemies to the souls of men are those persons who turn away men's ears from attending to the knocks and calls of Christ in his word. Such are, 1. Profane, wicked men, who, like Elymas the sorcerer, make it their business by wicked insinuations and jeers to turn away men's ears from the gospel. “O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord ?" Acts 13:10. All opposition to godliness has a spice of devilishness, and no child more resembles his father than a scoffing enemy resembles his father the devil. But blessed be God for the good providence which, in a great measure, has stopped the mouths both of the father and his children. 2. Take heed of carnal and ungodly relations, who discourage and threaten their servants, and all who depend on them, from attending upon the means, or giving way to the convictions which God has awakened in their hearts. Cruel parents, who had rather see their children turned into their graves, than turning to the ways of serious godliness! O that any should dare to quench the beginnings of spiritual life in those to whom they were instruments to convey natural life. 3. Take heed of the world, its distracting cares and pleasures ; what a din and noise do these things make in the ears of men. “The cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” Mark 4:19. Tell not them of getting Christ, they must study how to get bread. These are some of the distracting and diverting sounds which drown the voice of