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natural to men rather to eat a brown crust, or wear a coarse, ragged garment which they can call their own, than to feed on the richest dainties, or wear the costliest garments which they must receive as alms or a gift from another. O how hard is it to subdue this pride of the heart, even after light and convictions are come into the soul—to convince men of their undone condition, and the absolute necessity of another and higher righteousness than their own. When souls are in treaty with Christ, this sin makes the last opposition. Fain would they come to Christ, ten thousand worlds for Christ; but they think they must not approach him without some qualifications which are yet wanting. But, soul, if ever Christ and thou conclude a union, thou must deny self even in this the most refined form of it, and come as Abraham did, naked and empty-handed, to Him who justifieth the ungodly. Down with this house-idol, thy self, thy righteous self, dressed up, like another Agag, with such specious pretences of humility.
4. The fourth bar forbidding Christ's entrance into the soul, is custom in sin. Sin has so fixed itself by long continuance in the soul, and the soul is so settled and confirmed in its course, that all arguments and persuasions to change our path are swept away by the power of custom, as straws and feathers are by the rapid course of a mighty torrent. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots ? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Jer. 13:23. Soap and nitre may as soon make an Ethiopian white, or take the spots out of the leopard's skin, as the reasonings of men remove the mighty power of customary sin. Physicians find it a hard thing to cure an ill habit of body. It is a great matter to be accustomed this way or that from our childhood ; every repeated act of sin confirms and strengthens the habit; and hence it is that we see so few conversions in old age. It was a wonder in the primitive times, that Marcus Caius Victorius embraced
Christianity in the sixtieth year of his age. Take an habitual drunkard, a self-righteous moralist, and lay before them the necessity of a change, and you will find it as easy to stop the course of a river with the breath of your mouth, as to stop them in an accustomed course of sinning.
5. The fifth bar resisting Christ's entrance into the soul, is the sin of presumption : this sin parts Christ and thousands of souls in the world ; presuming, they hope ; and hoping, they perish. When men presume that their condition is safe already, their souls never go out after a Saviour, This was the ruin of Laodicea : “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Rev. 3:17. This damning presumption is discovered in three things : 1. Many think they have that grace which they have not, mistaking the similar for the saving works of the Spirit; a fatal mistake, never rectified with many thousands till it be too late. 2. They presume to find that mercy in God, which they will never find; for all the saving mercies of God are dispensed to men through Christ, in the way of regeneration and faith. Jude, ver. 21. 3. They presume upon the time for repentance and faith hereafter, which their eyes shall never see. And thus presumption locks up the heart against Christ, and leaves sinners perishing even in the presence of a Saviour. They make a bridge of their own shadow, and so perish in the waters.
6. The sixth and last sin barring the heart against Christ, is a strong prejudice against holiness, and the strict duties of religion. Thus, in the very infancy of Christianity, the world was driven off from religion by the common prejudices which lay upon the professors of it: '“As concerning this sect, we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Acts 28:22.
Thus Justin Martyr complains that Christians were everywhere condemned by common fame; and on this account Christ pronounces a woe upon the world, because of offences. Matt. 18:7. Alas, it will be the ruin of thousands; some have imbibed such prejudiced opinions and unjust notions of religion and its professors, as to make them irreconcilable enemies to it. Satan has dressed it up in their fancies in such an odious form, as to make them loathe both the name and the thing. These prejudices are drawn from various things; sometimes from the necessary duties of Christianity, which are laid as crimes on the people of God: “When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach.” Psalm 69:10. Sometimes the groundless and malicious slanders and inventions of the enemies of Christianity are the occasion of real prejudices to the world : “Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah, and let us smite him with the tongue.” Jer. 18:18. Sometimes innocent and serious professors of godliness are censured and condemned on account of hypocritical professors, who never heartily espoused religion. And lastly, the ways of holiness suffer from the infirmities of weak Christians, who give too many occasions to prejudice the world against the ways of God.
By these things multitudes are kept from attendance on the means of grace, and multitudes more have their hearts shut up from receiving any saving benefit under them.
These are the common bars and locks by which the strong man armed secures his possession in the souls of sinners; and,
III. These bars are too strong for any but THE ALMIGHTY POWER OF GOD to remove or break. It is said that the Lord opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27. The arm of the Lord must be revealed, or none 'will open to Christ by faith. Isa. 53:1.
1. The iron bar of the divine law, that thundering, terrible law, cannot force open the heart of an unbeliever; all
the dreadful curses flying out of its fiery mouth, make no more impression than a tennis-ball against a wall of marble. You read of them who hear the words of this curse, yet bless themselves in their heart, saying, they shall have peace, though they walk in the imaginations of their hearts, to add drunkenness to thirst. Deut. 29:19. .
They play with hell and eternal torments, rush into iniquity as the horse rusheth into the battle, act as men in love with their own death, and as those who are at an agreement with hell. O the besotting, hardening, infatuating power of sin!
2. The golden key of free-grace cannot, in itself, remove these bars and open men's hearts to Christ: “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced.” Matt. 11:17. The melodious sounds of grace, mercy, peace, and pardon, affect not the dead hearts of unbelievers : like deaf adders, they stop their ears at the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely. These gospel melodies only dispose them to a more quiet sleep in sin.
3. No works of providence are in themselves sufficient to open the hearts of men to Christ.
The judgments of God cannot do it; thousands have been sick with smiting, that yet cannot be made sick for sin. “Thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction : they have made their faces harder than a rock ; they have refused to return.” Jer. 5:3. Messengers of judgment are abroad, smiting some in their estates, scattering in one day the labor of many years; and therein giving a warning to the conscience to make sure of Christ and the world to come, since their comfort and happiness are scattered in this world. Some are smitten in their dearest relatives; death knocks at their door, and carries out the delight of their eyes, and admonishes their souls to place their happiness in more durable comforts : some are smitten with disease, giving warning of the near approach of their latter end, and bidding them prepare for another habitation ; but all in vain.
No mercies of God are in themselves sufficient to open the obdurate hearts of sinners to Christ. God has heaped up mercies by multitudes upon many of you; all these mercies of God should lead you to repentance. Rom. 2:4. They take you in a friendly way by the hand, and thus talk with you: “Ah, sinner, how canst thou grieve and dishonor the God who thus feedeth, clotheth, and comforteth thee on every side? Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise ?" Yet all will not do, neither judgments nor mercies can fright or allure the carnal heart to Jesus Christ. It is his Spirit, his almighty power alone, that opens these everlasting gates, and makes these strong . bars give way and fly at his voice.
INFERENCE 1. Behold here the dismal state of nature, and the woful condition of all unregenerate souls ; Christ the Redeemer shut out, sin and Satan shut in.' This is the horrid state of nature shut up in unbelief. Rom. 11:32. Ah, Lord, what a condition is this ; we should certainly account it an unspeakable misery to be shut up in a house haunted by the devil, where we should be continually frightened with dreadful noises and apparitions; but alas, what is an apparition of the devil without us, to the inhabitation of the devil within us? Nay, what is the possession of a body, to Satan's possession of the soul? Yet this is the very case of the unregenerate. Luke 11:21. The strong man armed keepeth the palace, till Christ dispossesses him by sovereign victorious grace. Poor wretch, canst thou start at a supposed vision of a spirit, and not tremble to think that thy soul is the habitation of devils? There is a twofold misery lying upon all Christless, unregenerated per sons.
Satan is their ruler in this world, “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.” Eph. 2:2.