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lines are drawn. “These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name.” John 20:31. All the precious truths that are written in the Scriptures are to bring you to faith. The great design of the Spirit in his illuminations, convictions, and humiliations is the same thing: “This is the work of God, that ye believe." John 6:29. It is not only a work worthy of such an author, but that on which God's eye is fixed in his workings upon us—the end and aim of his work.
Great persons have great designs. This is the glorious project of the great God, and each person in the Godhead is engaged in it. 1. The Father's hand is in this work, and without it no heart could ever open or move towards Christ: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." John 6:44. None but he that raised up Christ from the dead, can raise up a dead heart to saving faith in him. 2. The Son's hand is in this work; he is not only the object, but the author of our faith. “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” 1 John, 5:20. 3. And then the Holy Spirit comes from heaven expressly to convince sinners of their need of Christ, and beget faith in them. John 16:9. So that this appears to be the great design of heaven, the drift and level both of the word and works of God. Touching this design of the gospel I shall here speak, endeavoring to illustrate this great and glorious project of heaven in its greatness ; its difficulty ; the Agent and instrument employed in it; and its scope and aim. And,
I. Of the GREATNESS of this design of God. We little understand what a marvellous thing is done on the earth when the heart of a sinner is brought to close with Christ by faith. It would transport us with admiration, did we thoroughly consider it. Well may the apostle place it in the first rank of the wonderful works of God: “Great is the mystery of godliness : God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world.” 1 Tim. 3:16. Observe with what works of wonder faith is here associated. It is an astonishing work of God, that ever God should be manifested in the flesh--that he who thunders in the clouds should cry in a cradle—that he who is over all, God blessed for ever, should become a man. It is astonishing, that when he was taken down dead from the cross, laid in the sepulchre, and the stone sealed upon it, he should rise on the third day from the dead by his own power. That the gospel should be preached to such miserable people as the Gentiles were, the scorn and contempt of the Jews. And no less marvellous is it, to see the hearts of such poor creatures, which were glued fast to idolatry and dead in sin, open to Christ upon such self-denying terms as to let go all they had in the world for a blessed inheritance which they never saw. Were not this a marvellous work of God indeed, there would not be such joy and triumph in heaven among the holy angels, as there is on the opening of every sinner's heart to Christ. Luke 15:7. The whole city of God is moved with it. Heaven rings with the joyful tidings. As soon as the will begins to bow and open to Christ, the news is quickly in heaven, and all the angels of God rejoice at the tidings. As when a young prince is born, there is joy in every city throughout the kingdom ; so also there is in heaven, when Christ hath gotten a new habitation in the soul of any sinner upon earth. Moreover, the greatness of this design appears from the great rewards promised by the Lord to every servant of his who in the least degree helps it on. God would never reward the instruments so richly, if the success of the work were not of great value in his eyes. The ministers of Christ may be ill-rewarded by men, persecuted and reproached for their labor, but God will bountifully repay their pains and faithfulness. “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” Dan. 12:3. All these things show it to be a great and important design, upon which the heart of God is much set.
II. As it is an exceeding great and important work of God, so it is a very HARD AND DIFFICULT WORK in itself—a work whose difficulties surmount the ability of angels. It is certainly a work carried on by the mighty power of God, through the greatest opposition ; and therefore it is said that it is the peculiar prerogative of Jesus Christ, who only hath the key of the house of David, to open the heart of a sinner by faith. Rev. 3:7. Men think it is an easy thing to believe; but if you consult the Scriptures, you will quickly be informed how greatly you mistake the nature of this work. The believing soul is said to be risen with Christ, through the faith of the operation of God, who raised him from the dead. Cor. 2:12. In the resurrection of Christ there was a glorious operation of the power of God indeed! you know it astonished the world to hear of it. The very same power that wrought that, must also be put forth to work this, or it would never be wrought. So again, “By grace are ye saved, through faith : and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.” Eph. 2:8. Not of yourselves : you are no more able to come to Christ by faith, in your own power, than Lazarus was able to unbind himself in the grave, and come forth. Yea, in Eph. 1:19, the work of believing is ascribed unto the exceeding greatness of the power of God. No other but the almighty power of God can do it: it exceeds the power of ministers, yea, of angels. Three things will evince the difficulty of this work.
1. The nature of the work of faith, which is wholly
supernatural. It is no less than gaining over the hearty and full consent of the will to take Jesus Christ with his yoke of obedience, Matt. 11:29, and with his cross of sufferings, Matt. 16:24. And how far these will carry a man into dangers, losses, and sufferings, who can tell ? and all this upon the account of an unseen happiness and glory. Lusts and corruptions must be mortified, pleasures and profits in the world abandoned ; reproaches, losses, pains, and all that the devil and the world can lay upon us for Christ's sake, must be embraced and welcomed. And can it be supposed that any power beneath the almighty power of the Lord, any voice except the efficacious voice of Christ, can prevail with the will to give its firm, explicit consent to such difficult and self-denying terms as these ?
2. Consider the subject wrought upon : the hard, obstinate heart of a perverse sinner-a heart harder by nature than the nether mill-stone. It is as easy to melt the most obdurate rock into a sweet syrup, as it is to melt the heart of a sinner into penitential sorrows for sin. What, to bring a dead heart to life; to make a man bitterly bewail the sins that were his delight, more than he ever bewailed the death of his dearest relation in the world ; to make a proud heart renounce its own self-righteousness, which it dotes upon, and take all shame and reproach to itself upon account of sin : this is wonderful. You would think it a strange thing to see the course of the tide stopped with the breath of a man; but o what a marvellous thing is here, that at the preaching of the gospel by a poor worm, the Lord should turn the tide of the will, and thus bring the soul to a ready compliance with his most self-denying terms and proposals !
3. That which further increases the difficulty of believing is the fierce opposition made by the enemies of faith. All the powers of hell and earth without us are in league with the corruptions within us, to resist and hinder this work
of believing. Never is the devil more busy than when Christ and the soul are treating about union. O the discouragements, objections, and difficulties that are rolled into the way of faith! one while it is the highest presumption ; another while it is impossible, and utterly too late : sometimes blasphemous injections, like fiery darts, are shot into the soul; at other times the invincible difficulties of religion are objected, and losses and torments are opposed to this work The tempter presents himself in a thousand shapes to hinder the soul's passing out of nature to Christ; sometimes objecting the greatness of sin, and sometimes the loss of the proper season and opportunity of mercy, together with the want of due qualifications to come to Christ. Thus, and many other ways, he endeavors to prevent sinners from taking hold of Christ: and as every devil in hell opposes this work, so every carnal interest we have in the world is an enemy to faith. We have enemies enough within us, as well as without us, conspiring together to obstruct this work; all things increase the difficulty of believing.
III. We are next to speak of the AGENT AND INSTRUMENT employed in this great design.
1. The Agent by whose efficacy the heart is opened is the Spirit of God, without whom it is impossible the design should ever prosper: neither ordinances, providences, or ministers can be successful without him. If the Lord make use of any man for the conversion and salvation of another's soul, he may rejoice in it; but withal must say, as Peter to the Jews, “Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk ?" Acts 3 : 12 So may the ablest minister in the world say, when God blesses his labors to the conversion of any soul, Look not upon me, as though by the strength of my reason, or the power of my gifts, I had opened thy soul to Christ: this is the work of God's Spirit, in whose hand I am an instrument. 1 Cor. 3:7. He that plants is nothing, and he