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Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Romans 9:18

The apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, expresses his great concern and sorrow of heart for the nation of the Jews, who were rejected of God.  This leads him to observe the difference which God made by election between some of the Jews and others, and between the bulk of that people and the Christian Gentiles.  In speaking of this, he enters into a more minute discussion of the sovereignty of God in electing some to eternal life, and rejecting others, than is found in any other part of the Bible; in the course of which he quotes several passages from the Old Testament, confirming and illustrating this doctrine.  In the ninth verse, he refers us to what God said to Abraham, showing his election of Isaac before Ishmael – “For this is the word of promise; At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.”  Then to what God had said to Rebecca, showing his election of Jacob before Esau; “The elder shall serve the younger.”  In the thirteenth verse, to a passage from Malachi, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”  In the fifteenth verse, to what God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  And [in] the verse preceding the text, to what God says to Pharaoh, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.”

In what the apostle says in the text, he seems to have respect especially to the two last-cited passages: to what God said to Moses in the fifteenth verse, and to what he said to Pharaoh in the verse immediately preceding. God said to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”  To this the apostle refers in the former part of the text. And we know how often it is said of Pharaoh, that God hardened his heart.  And to this the apostle seems to have respect in the latter part of the text; “and whom he will he hardeneth.”  We may observe in the text,

1.  God’s different dealing with men. He hath mercy on some, and hardeneth others.  When God is here spoken of as hardening some of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by any positive efficiency hardens any man’s heart.  There is no positive act in God [i.e., God does not actively harden], as though he put forth any power to harden the heart.  To suppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author of sin.

God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerful influences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remain hardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, as he leaves them to hardness.  And again, by ordering those things in his providence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become the occasion of their hardening.  Thus God sends his word and ordinances to men which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening.  So the apostle said, that he was unto some “a savoir of death unto death

2.  The foundation of his different dealing with mankind; viz. his sovereign will and pleasure. “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”  This does not imply, merely, that God never shows mercy or denies it against his will, or that he is always willing to do it when he does it.  A willing subject or servant, when he obeys his lord’s commands, may never do any thing against his will, nothing but what he can do cheerfully and with delight; and yet he cannot be said to do what he wills in the sense of the text.  But the expression implies that it is God’s mere will and sovereign pleasure, which supremely orders this affair.  It is the divine will without restraint, or constraint, or obligation.

Doctrine. God exercises his sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.

He not only is sovereign, and has a sovereign right to dispose and order in that affair; and he not only might proceed in a sovereign way, if he would, and nobody could charge him with exceeding his right; but he actually does so; he exercises the right which he has. In the following discourse, I propose to show,

I. What is God’s sovereignty.
II. What God’s sovereignty in the salvation of men implies.
III. That God actually doth exercise his sovereignty in this matter.
IV. The reasons for this exercise.

I.  I would show what is God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure.  I will consider this definition by the parts of it.

The will of God is called his mere pleasure …

1.  In opposition to any constraint. Men may do things voluntarily, and yet there may be a degree of constraint.  A man may be said to do a thing voluntarily, that is, he himself does it; and, all things considered, he may choose to do it; yet he may do it out of fear, and the thing in itself considered be irksome to him, and sorely against his inclination.  When men do things thus, they cannot be said to do them according to their mere pleasure.

2. In opposition to its being under the will of another. A servant may fulfil his master’s commands, and may do it willingly, and cheerfully, and may delight to do his master’s will; yet when he does so, he does not do it of his own mere pleasure.  The saints do the will of God freely.  They choose to do it; it is their meat and drink.  Yet they do not do it of their mere pleasure and arbitrary will; because their will is under the direction of a superior will.

3.  In opposition to any proper obligation. A man may do a thing which he is obliged to do, very freely; but he cannot be said to act from his own mere will and pleasure.  He who acts from his own mere pleasure, is at full liberty; but he who is under any proper obligation, is not at liberty, but is bound.  Now the sovereignty of God supposes, that he has a right to dispose of all his creatures according to his mere pleasure in the sense explained.  And his right is absolute and independent.

Men may have a right to dispose of some things according to their pleasure.  But their right is not absolute and unlimited.  Men may be said to have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please.  But their right is not absolute; is has limits and bounds.  They have a right to dispose of their own goods as they please, provided they do not do it contrary to the law of the state to which they are subject, or contrary to the law of God.  Men’s right to dispose of their things as they will, is not absolute, because it is not independent.  They have not an independent right to what they have, but in some things depend on the community to which they belong, for the right they have; and in every thing depend on God.  They receive all the right they have to any thing from God.  But the sovereignty of God imports that he has an absolute, and unlimited, and independent right of disposing of his creatures as he will.  I proposed to inquire,

II.  What God’s sovereignty in the salvation of men implies.

It implies that God can either bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it, without any prejudice to the glory of any of his attributes, except where he has been pleased to declare, that he will or will not bestow it.  It cannot be said absolutely, as the case now stands, that God can, without any prejudice to the honor of any of his attributes, bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it; because, concerning some, God has been pleased to declare either that he will or that he will not bestow salvation on them; and thus to bind himself by his own promise.  And concerning [at least] some he has been pleased to declare, that he never will bestow salvation upon them; viz. those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.  Hence, as the case now stands, he is obliged; he cannot bestow salvation in one case, or refuse it in the other, without prejudice to the honor of his truth.  But God exercised his sovereignty in making these declarations.  God was not obliged to promise that he would save all who believe in Christ; nor was he obliged to declare, that he who committed the sin against the Holy Ghost should never be forgiven.  But it pleased him so to declare.  And had it not been so that God had been pleased to oblige himself in these cases, he might still have either bestowed salvation, or refused it, without prejudice to any of his attributes.  If it would in itself be prejudicial to any of his attributes to bestow or refuse salvation, then God would not in that matter act as absolutely sovereign.  Because it then ceases to be a merely arbitrary thing.  It ceases to be a matter of absolute liberty, and is become a matter of necessity or obligation.  For God cannot do any thing to the prejudice of any of his attributes, or contrary to what is in itself excellent and glorious. Therefore,

1.  God can, without prejudice to the glory of any of his attributes, bestow salvation on any of the children of men, except on those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. The case was thus when man fell, and before God revealed his eternal purpose and plan for redeeming men by Jesus Christ.  It was probably looked upon by the angels as a thing utterly inconsistent with God’s attributes to save any of the children of men.  It was utterly inconsistent with the honor of the divine attributes to save any one of the fallen children of men, as they were in themselves.  It could not have been done had not God contrived a way consistent with the honor of his holiness, majesty, justice, and truth.

But since God in the gospel has revealed that nothing is too hard for him to do, nothing beyond the reach of his power, and wisdom, and sufficiency; and since Christ has wrought out the work of redemption, and fulfilled the law by obeying, there is none of mankind whom he may not save without any prejudice to any of his attributes, excepting those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.  And those he might have saved without going contrary to any of his attributes, had he not been pleased to declare that he would not.  It was not because he could not have saved them consistently with his justice, and consistently with his law, or because his attribute of mercy was not great enough, or the blood of Christ not sufficient to cleanse from that sin.  But it has pleased him for wise reasons to declare that that sin shall never be forgiven in this world, or in the world to come.

And so now it is contrary to God’s truth to save such.  But otherwise there is no sinner, let him be ever so great, but God can save him without prejudice to any attribute; if he has been a murderer, adulterer, or perjurer, or idolater, or blasphemer, God may save him if he pleases, and in no respect injure his glory.  Though persons have sinned long, have been obstinate, have committed heinous sins a thousand times, even till they have grown old in sin, and have sinned under great aggravations: let the aggravations be what they may; if they have sinned under ever so great light; if they have been backsliders, and have sinned against ever so numerous and solemn warnings and strivings of the Spirit, and mercies of his common providence: though the danger of such is much greater than of other sinners, yet God can save them if he pleases, for the sake of Christ, without any prejudice to any of his attributes.  He may have mercy on whom he will have mercy.  He may have mercy on the greatest of sinners, if he pleases, and the glory of none of his attributes will be in the least sullied.  Such is the sufficiency of the satisfaction and righteousness of Christ, that none of the divine attributes stand in the way of the salvation of any of them.  Thus the glory of any attribute did not at all suffer by Christ’s saving some of his crucifiers.

2.  God may save any of them without prejudice to the honor of his holiness. God is an infinitely holy being.  The heavens are not pure in his sight.  He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity.  And if God should in any way countenance sin, and should not give proper testimonies of his hatred of it, and displeasure at it, it would be a prejudice to the honor of his holiness.  But God can save the greatest sinner without giving the least countenance to sin.  If he saves one, who for a long time has stood out under the calls of the gospel, and has sinned under dreadful aggravations; if he saves one who, against light, has been a pirate or blasphemer, he may do it without giving any countenance to their wickedness; because his abhorrence of it and displeasure against it have been already sufficiently manifested in the sufferings of Christ.  It was a sufficient testimony of God’s abhorrence against even the greatest wickedness, that Christ, the eternal Son of God, died for it.  Nothing can show God’s infinite abhorrence of any wickedness more than this.  If the wicked man himself should be thrust into hell, and should endure the most extreme torments which are ever suffered there, it would not be a greater manifestation of God’s abhorrence of it, than the sufferings of the Son of God for it.

3.  God may save any of the children of men without prejudice to the honor of his majesty.  If men have affronted God, and that ever so much, if they have cast ever so much contempt on his authority; yet God can save them, if he pleases, and the honor of his majesty not suffer in the least.  If God should save those who have affronted him, without satisfaction, the honor of his majesty would suffer.  For when contempt is cast upon infinite majesty, its honor suffers, and the contempt leaves an obscurity upon the honor of the divine majesty, if the injury is not repaired.  But the sufferings of Christ do fully repair the injury. Let the contempt be ever so great, yet if so honorable a person as Christ undertakes to be a Mediator for the offender, and in the mediation suffer in his stead, it fully repairs the injury done to the majesty of heaven by the greatest sinner.

4.  God may save any sinner whatsoever consistently with his justice. The justice of God requires the punishment of sin.  God is the Supreme Judge of the world, and he is to judge the world according to the rules of justice.  It is not the part of a judge to show favor to the person judged; but he is to determine according to a rule of justice without departing to the right hand or left.  God does not show mercy as a judge, but as a sovereign. And therefore, when mercy sought the salvation of sinners, the inquiry was how to make the exercise of the mercy of God as a sovereign, and of his strict justice as a judge, agree together.  And this is done by the sufferings of Christ, in which sin is punished fully, and justice answered. Christ suffered enough for the punishment of the sins of the greatest sinner that ever lived.  So that God, when he judges, may act according to a rule of strict justice, and yet acquit the sinner, if he be in Christ.  Justice cannot require any more for any man’s sins, than those sufferings of one of the persons in the Trinity, which Christ suffered. “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood; to declare his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Christ” (Rom. 3:25,26).

5.  God can save any sinner whatsoever, without any prejudice to the honor of his truth. God passed his word, that sin should be punished with death, which is to be understood not only of the first, but of the second death.  God can save the greatest sinner consistently with his truth in this threatening.  For sin is punished in the sufferings of Christ, inasmuch as he is our surety, and so is legally the same person, and sustained our guilt, and in his sufferings bore our punishment.  It may be objected, that God said, If thou eatest, thou shalt die; as though the same person that sinned must suffer; and therefore why does not God’s truth oblige him to that?  I answer, that the word then was not intended to be restrained to him, that in his own person sinned.  Adam probably understood that his posterity [was] included, whether they sinned in their own person or not.

6.  But, God may refuse salvation to any sinner whatsoever, without prejudice to the honor of any of his attributes. There is no person whatever in a natural condition, upon whom God may not refuse to bestow salvation without prejudice to any part of his glory.  Let a natural person be wise or unwise, of a good or ill natural temper, of mean or honorable parentage, whether born of wicked or godly parents; let him be a moral or immoral person, whatever good he may have done, however religious he has been, how many prayers soever he has made, and whatever pains he has taken that he may be saved; whatever concern and distress he may have for fear he shall be damned; or whatever circumstances he may be in; God can deny him salvation without the least disparagement to any of his perfections.  His glory will not in any instance be the least obscured by it.

(a) God may deny salvation to any natural person without any injury to the honor of his righteousness.  If he does so, there is no injustice nor unfairness in it.  There is no natural man living, let his case be what it will, but God may deny him salvation, and cast him down to hell, and yet not be chargeable with the least unrighteous or unfair dealing in any respect whatsoever.  This is evident, because they all have deserved hell: and it is no injustice for a proper judge to inflict on any man what he deserves.  And as he has deserved condemnation, so he has never done any thing to remove the liability, or to atone for the sin.  He never has done any thing whereby he has laid any obligations on God not to punish him as he deserved.

(b) God may deny salvation to any unconverted person whatever without any prejudice to the honor of his goodness.  Sinners are sometimes ready to flatter themselves, that though it may not be contrary to the justice of God to condemn them, yet it will not consist with the glory of his mercy.  They think it will be dishonorable to God’s mercy to cast them into hell, and have no pity or compassion upon them.  They think it will be very hard and severe, and not becoming a God of infinite grace and tender compassion.  But God can deny salvation to any natural person without any disparagement to his mercy and goodness.  That, which is not contrary to God’s justice, is not contrary to his mercy.  If damnation be justice, then mercy may choose its own object.  They mistake the nature of the mercy of God, who think that it is an attribute, which, in some cases, is contrary to justice.  Nay, God’s mercy is illustrated by it, as in the twenty-third verse of the context: “That he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.”

(c) It is in no way prejudicial to the honor of God’s faithfulness.  For God has in no way obliged himself to any natural man by his word to bestow salvation upon him.  Men in a natural condition are not the children of promise; but lie open to the curse of the law, which would not be the case if they had any promise to lay hold of.

III.  God does actually exercise his sovereignty in men’s salvation.

We shall show how he exercises this right in several particulars.

1.  In calling one people or nation, and giving them the means of grace, and leaving others without them.

According to the divine appointment, salvation is bestowed in connection with the means of grace.  God may sometimes make use of very unlikely means, and bestow salvation on men who are under very great disadvantages; but he does not bestow grace wholly without any means.  But God exercises his sovereignty in bestowing those means.  All mankind are by nature in like circumstances towards God.  Yet God greatly distinguishes some from others by the means and advantages which he bestows upon them.  The savages, who live in the remote parts of this continent, and are under the grossest heathenish darkness, as well as the inhabitants of Africa, are naturally in exactly similar circumstances towards God with us in this land.  They are no more alienated or estranged from God in their natures than we; and God has no more to charge them with.  And yet what a vast difference has God made between us and them!  In this he has exercised his sovereignty.

He did this of old, when he chose but one people, to make them his covenant people, and to give them the means of grace, and left all others, and gave them over to heathenish darkness and the tyranny of the devil, to perish from generation to generation for many hundreds of years.  The earth in that time was peopled with many great and mighty nations.  There were the Egyptians, a people famed for their wisdom.  There were also the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who were great, and wise, and powerful nations.  There were the Persians, who by their strength and policy subdued a great part of the world.  There were the renowned nations of the Greeks and Romans, who were famed over the whole world for their excellent civil governments, for their wisdom and skill in the arts of peace and war, and who by their military prowess in their turns subdued and reigned over the world.  Those were rejected.  God did not choose them for his people, but left them for many ages under gross heathenish darkness, to perish for lack of vision; and chose one only people, the posterity of Jacob, to be his own people, and to give them the means of grace—”He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them” (Psal. 147:19,20).  This nation was a small, inconsiderable people in comparison with many other people—”The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people” (Deut. 7:7).  So neither was it for their righteousness; for they had no more of that than other people—”Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people” (Deut. 9:6).  God gives them to understand, that it was from no other cause but his free electing love, that he chose them to be his people. That reason is given why God loved them; it was because he loved them (Deut. 7:8).  Which is as much as to say, it was agreeable to his sovereign pleasure, to set his love upon you.

God also showed his sovereignty in choosing that people, when other nations were rejected, who came of the same progenitors.  Thus the children of Isaac were chosen, when the posterity of Ishmael and other sons of Abraham were rejected.  So the children of Jacob were chosen, when the posterity of Esau were rejected: as the apostle observes in the seventh verse, “Neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed be called:” and again in verses 10-13.  “And not only this; but when Rebekah also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; the children moreover being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the promise of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”  The apostle has not respect merely to the election of the persons of Isaac and Jacob before Ishmael and Esau; but of their posterity.  In the passage already quoted from Malachi, God has respect to the nations, which were the posterity of Esau and Jacob—”I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob; and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness” (Mal. 1:2,3).

God showed his sovereignty, when Christ came, in rejecting the Jews, and calling the Gentiles.  God rejected that nation who were the children of Abraham according to the flesh, and had been his peculiar people for so many ages, and who alone possessed the one true God, and chose idolatrous heathen before them, and called them to be his people.  When the Messiah came, who was born of their nation, and whom they so much expected, he rejected them. He came to his own, and his own received him not (John 1:11).  When the glorious dispensation of the gospel came, God passed by the Jews, and called those who had been heathens, to enjoy the privileges of it.  They were broken off, that the Gentiles might be grafted on (Rom. 11:17).  She is now called beloved, that was not beloved. And more are the children of the desolate, than the children of the married wife (Isa. 54:1).  The natural children of Abraham are rejected, and God raises up children to Abraham of stones.  That nation, which was so honored of God, has now been for many ages rejected, and remains dispersed all over the world, a remarkable monument of divine vengeance.  And now God greatly distinguishes some Gentile nations from others, and all according to his sovereign pleasure.

2.  God exercises his sovereignty in the advantages he bestows upon particular persons.

All need salvation alike, and all are, naturally, alike undeserving of it; but he gives some vastly greater advantages for salvation than others.  To some he assigns their place in pious and religious families, where they may be well instructed and educated, and have religious parents to dedicate them to God, and put up many prayers for them.  God places some under a more powerful ministry than others, and in places where there are more of the outpourings of the Spirit of God.  To some he gives much more of the strivings and the awakening influences of the Spirit, than to others.  It is according to his mere sovereign pleasure.

3.  God exercises his sovereignty in sometimes bestowing salvation upon the low and mean and denying it to the wise and great.

Christ in his sovereignty passes by the gates of princes and nobles, and enters some cottage and dwells there, and has communion with its obscure inhabitants.  God in his sovereignty withheld salvation from the rich man, who fared sumptuously every day, and bestowed it on poor Lazarus, who sat begging at his gate.  God in this way pours contempt on princes, and on all their glittering splendor.  So God sometimes passes by wise men, men of great understanding, learned and great scholars, and bestows salvation on others of weak understanding, who only comprehend some of the plainer parts of Scripture, and the fundamental principles of the Christian religion.  Yea, there seem to be fewer great men called, than others.  And God in ordering it thus manifests his sovereignty.  “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (1 Cor. 1:26, 27, 28).

4.  In bestowing salvation on some who have had few advantages, God sometimes will bless weak means for producing astonishing effects, when more excellent means are not succeeded.

God sometimes will withhold salvation from those who are the children of very pious parents, and bestow it on others, who have been brought up in wicked families.  Thus we read of a good Abijah in the family of Jeroboam, and of a godly Hezekiah, the son of wicked Ahaz, and of a godly Josiah, the son of a wicked Amon. But on the contrary, of a wicked Amnon and Absalom, the sons of holy David, and that vile Manasseh, the son a good Hezekiah.  Sometimes some, who have had eminent means of grace, are rejected, and left to perish, and others, under far less advantages, are saved.  Thus the scribes and Pharisees, who had so much light and knowledge of the Scriptures, were mostly rejected, and the poor ignorant publicans saved.  The greater part of those, among whom Christ was much conversant, and who heard him preach, and saw him work miracles from day to day, were left; and the woman of Samaria was taken, and many other Samaritans at the same time, who only heard Christ preach, as he occasionally passed through their city.  So the woman of Canaan was taken, who was not of the country of the Jews, and but once saw Jesus Christ.  So the Jews, who had seen and heard Christ, and saw his miracles, and with whom the apostles labored so much, were not saved.  But the Gentiles, many of them, who, as it were, but transiently heard the glad tidings of salvation, embraced them, and were converted.

5.  God exercises his sovereignty in calling some to salvation, who have been very heinously wicked, and leaving others, who have been moral and religious persons.

The Pharisees were a very strict sect among the Jews.  Their religion was extraordinary.  They were not as other men, extortioners, unjust, or adulterers (Luke 18:11).  There was their morality.  They fasted twice a week, and gave tithes of all that they possessed.  There was their religion.  But yet they were mostly rejected, and the publicans, and harlots, and openly vicious sort of people, entered into the kingdom of God before them.  The apostle describes his righteousness while a Pharisee—”Touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless” (Philip. 3:6).  The rich young man, who came kneeling to Christ, saying, Good Master, what shall I do, that I may have eternal life, was a moral person.  When Christ bade him keep the commandments, he said, and in his own view with sincerity, “All these have I kept from my youth up.”  He had obviously been brought up in a good family, and was a youth of such amiable manners and correct deportment, that it is said, “Jesus beholding him, loved him.”  Still he was left; while the thief, that was crucified with Christ, was chosen and called, even on the cross.  God sometimes shows his sovereignty by showing mercy to the chief of sinners, on those who have been murderers, and profaners, and blasphemers.  And even when they are old, some are called at the eleventh hour.  God sometimes shows the sovereignty of his grace by showing mercy to some, who have spent most of their lives in the service of Satan, and have little left to spend in the service of God.

6.  In saving, some of those who seek salvation, and not others.

Some who seek salvation, as we know both from Scripture and observation, are soon converted; while others seek a long time, and do not obtain at last.  God helps some over the mountains and difficulties which are in the way; he subdues Satan, and delivers them from his temptations: but others are ruined by the temptations with which they meet.  Some are never thoroughly awakened; while to others God is pleased to give thorough convictions.  Some are left to backsliding hearts; others God causes to hold out to the end.  Some are brought off from a confidence in their own righteousness; others never get over that obstruction in their way, as long as they live.  And some are converted and saved, who never had so great strivings as some who, notwithstanding, perish.

IV.  I come now to give the reasons, why God does thus exercise his sovereignty in the eternal salvation of the children of men.

1.  It is agreeable to God’s design in the creation of the universe to exercise every attribute, and thus to manifest the glory of each of them.

God’s design in the creation was to glorify himself, or to make a discovery of the essential glory of his nature.  It was fit that infinite glory should shine forth; and it was God’s original design to make a manifestation of his glory, as it is.  Not that it was his design to manifest all his glory to the apprehension of creatures; for it is impossible that the minds of creatures should comprehend it.  But it was his design to make a true manifestation of his glory, such as should represent every attribute.  If God glorified one attribute, and not another, such manifestation of his glory would be defective; and the representation would not be complete.  If all God’s attributes are not manifested, the glory of none of them is manifested as it is: for the divine attributes reflect glory on one another.  Thus if God’s wisdom be manifested, and not his holiness, the glory of his wisdom would not be manifested as it is; for one part of the glory of the attribute of divine wisdom is, that it is a holy wisdom.  So if his holiness were manifested, and not his wisdom, the glory of his holiness would not be manifested as it is; for one thing which belongs to the glory of God’s holiness is, that it is a wise holiness.

So it is with respect to the attributes of mercy and justice.  The glory of God’s mercy does not appear as it is, unless it is manifested as a just mercy, or as a mercy consistent with justice.  And so with respect to God’s sovereignty, it reflects glory on all his other attributes.  It is part of the glory of God’s mercy, that it is sovereign mercy. So all the attributes of God reflect glory on one another.  The glory of one attribute cannot be manifested, as it is, without the manifestation of another.  The glory of God eminently appears in his absolute sovereignty over all creatures, great and small.  If the glory of a prince be his power and dominion, then the glory of God is his absolute sovereignty.  Herein appear God’s infinite greatness and highness above all creatures.  Therefore it is the will of God to manifest his sovereignty.  And his sovereignty, like his other attributes, is manifested in the exercises of it.  He glorifies his power in the exercise of power.  He glorifies his mercy in the exercise of mercy.   So he glorifies his sovereignty in the exercise of sovereignty.

2.  The more excellent the creature is over whom God is sovereign, and the greater the matter in which he so appears, the more glorious is his sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God in his being sovereign over men, is more glorious than in his being sovereign over the inferior creatures.  And his sovereignty over angels is yet more glorious that his sovereignty over men.  For the nobler the creature is, still the greater and higher doth God appear in his sovereignty over it.  It is a greater honor to a man to have dominion over men, that over beasts; and a still greater honor to have dominion over princes, nobles, and kings, than over ordinary men.  So the glory of God’s sovereignty appears in that he is sovereign over the souls of men, who are so noble and excellent creatures.  God therefore will exercise his sovereignty over them.  And further, [if] the dominion of any one extends over another, the greater will be [his] honor.  If a man has dominion over another only in some instances, he is not therein so much exalted, as in having absolute dominion over his life, and fortune, and all he has.

So God’s sovereignty over men appears glorious [in] that it extends to everything which concerns them.  He may dispose of them with respect to all that concerns them, according to his own pleasure.  His sovereignty appears glorious, that it reaches their most important affairs, even the eternal state and condition of the souls of men.  Herein it appears that the sovereignty of God is without bounds or limits, in that it reaches to an affair of such infinite importance.  God, therefore, as it is his design to manifest his own glory, will and does exercise his sovereignty towards men, over their souls and bodies, even in this most important matter of their eternal salvation.  He has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens.

APPLICATION.

1.  Hence we learn how absolutely we are dependent on God in this great matter of the eternal salvation of our souls.

We are dependent not only on his wisdom to contrive a way to accomplish it, and on his power to bring it to pass, but we are dependent on his mere will and pleasure in the affair.  We depend on the sovereign will of God for every thing belonging to it, from the foundation to the top-stone.  It was of the sovereign pleasure of God, that he contrived a way to save any of mankind, and gave us Jesus Christ, his only-begotten Son, to be our Redeemer.  Why did he look on us, and send us a Savior, and not the fallen angels?  It was from the sovereign pleasure of God.  It was of his sovereign pleasure what means to appoint.  His giving us the Bible, and the ordinances of religion, is of his sovereign grace.  His giving those means to us rather than to others, his giving the awakening influences of his Spirit, and his bestowing saving grace, are all of his sovereign pleasure.  When he says, “Let there be light in the soul of such an one,” it is a word of infinite power and sovereign grace.

2.  Let us with the greatest humility adore the awful and absolute sovereignty of God.

As we have just shown, it is an eminent attribute of the Divine Being, that he is sovereign over such excellent beings as the souls of men, and that in every respect, even in that of their eternal salvation.  The infinite greatness of God, and his exaltation above us, appears in nothing more, than in his sovereignty.  It is spoken of in Scripture as a great part of his glory.  “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me. I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39).  “Our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he pleased” (Psal. 115:3).  “Whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation.  And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou” (Daniel 4:34,35)?  Our Lord Jesus Christ praised and glorified the Father for the exercise of his sovereignty in the salvation of men—”I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight” (Matt. 11:25,26).  Let us therefore give God the glory of his sovereignty, as adoring him, whose sovereign will orders all things, beholding ourselves as nothing in comparison with him.  Dominion and sovereignty require humble reverence and honor in the subject.  The absolute, universal, and unlimited sovereignty of God requires, that we should adore him with all possible humility and reverence.  It is impossible that we should go to excess in lowliness and reverence of that Being, who may dispose of us to all eternity, as he pleases.

3.  Those who are in a state of salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone, and to give all the praise to him, who maketh them to differ from others.

Godliness is no cause for glorying, except it be in God (1 Cor. 1:29-31).  Such are not, by any means, in any degree to attribute their godliness, their safe and happy state and condition, to any natural difference between them and other men, or to any strength or righteousness of their own.  They have no reason to exalt themselves in the least degree; but God is the being whom they should exalt.  They should exalt God the Father, who chose them in Christ, who set his love upon them, and gave them salvation, before they were born, and even before the world was.  If they inquire, why God set his love on them, and chose them rather than others, if they think they can see any cause out of God, they are greatly mistaken.  They should exalt God the Son, who bore their names on his heart, when he came into the world, and hung on the cross, and in whom alone they have righteousness and strength.  They should exalt God the Holy Ghost, who of sovereign grace has called them out of darkness into marvellous light; who has by his own immediate and free operation, led them into an understanding of the evil and danger of sin, and brought them off from their own righteousness, and opened their eyes to discover the glory of God, and the wonderful riches of God in Jesus Christ, and has sanctified them, and made them new creatures.  When they hear of the wickedness of others, or look upon vicious persons, they should think how wicked they once were, and how much they provoked God, and how they deserved for ever to be left by him to perish in sin, and that it is only sovereign grace which has made the difference. The people of God have the greater cause of thankfulness, more reason to love God, who hath bestowed such great and unspeakable mercy upon them of his mere sovereign pleasure.

4.  Hence we learn what cause we have to admire the grace of God that he should condescend to become bound to us by covenant.

That he, who is naturally supreme in his dominion over us, who is our absolute proprietor, and may do with us as he pleases, and is under no obligation to us; that he should, as it were, relinquish his absolute freedom, and should cease to be merely sovereign in his dispensations towards believers, when once they have believed in Christ, and should, for their more abundant consolation, become bound.  So that they can challenge salvation of this Sovereign; they can demand it through Christ, as a debt.  And it would be prejudicial to the glory of God’s attributes, to deny it to them; it would be contrary to his justice and faithfulness.  What wonderful condescension is it in such a Being, thus to become bound to us, worms of the dust, for our consolation!  He bound himself by his word, his promise.  But he was not satisfied with that; but that we might have stronger consolation still, he hath bound himself by his oath (Heb. 6:13, etc). Let us, therefore, labor to submit to the sovereignty of God.  God insists, that his sovereignty be acknowledged by us, and that even in this great matter, a matter which so nearly and infinitely concerns us, as our own eternal salvation.  This is the stumbling-block on which thousands fall and perish; and if we go on contending with God about his sovereignty, it will be our eternal ruin.  It is absolutely necessary that we should submit to God, as our absolute sovereign, and the sovereign over our souls; as one who may have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and harden whom he will.

5.  We may make use of this doctrine to guard those who seek salvation from two opposite extremes – presumption and discouragement.

Do not presume upon the mercy of God, and so encourage yourself in sin.  Many hear that God’s mercy is infinite, and therefore think, that if they delay seeking salvation for the present, and seek it hereafter, that God will bestow his grace upon them.  But consider, that though God’s grace is sufficient, yet he is sovereign, and will use his own pleasure whether he will save you or not.  If you put off salvation till hereafter, salvation will not be in your power.  It will be as a sovereign God pleases, whether you shall obtain it or not.  Seeing, therefore, that in this affair you are so absolutely dependent on God, it is best to follow his direction in seeking it, which is to hear his voice today: “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.”

Beware also of discouragement.  Take heed of despairing thoughts, because you are a great sinner, because you have persevered so long in sin, have backslidden, and resisted the Holy Ghost.  Remember that, let your case be what it may, and you ever so great a sinner, if you have not committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, God can bestow mercy upon you without the least prejudice to the honor of his holiness, which you have offended, or to the honor of his majesty, which you have insulted, or of his justice, which you have made your enemy, or of his truth, or of any of his attributes.  Let you be what sinner you may, God can, if he pleases, greatly glorify himself in your salvation.

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a sermon to “the unconverted” on July 8, 1741

“Their foot shall slide in due time.” Deut. 32:35

IN this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who were God’s visible people, and who lived under the means of grace; but who, notwithstanding all God’s wonderful works towards them, remained (as verse 28) void of counsel, having no understanding in them.  Under all the cultivations of heaven, they brought forth bitter and poisonous fruit; as in the two verses next preceding the text.  The expression I have chosen for my text, Their foot shall slide in due time, seems to imply the following things, relating to the punishment and destruction to which these wicked Israelites were exposed.

1.  That they were always exposed to destruction; as one that stands or walks in slippery places is always exposed to fall.  This is implied in the manner of their destruction coming upon them, being represented by their foot sliding.  The same is expressed, Psalm 73:18.  “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction.”

2.  It implies, that they were always exposed to sudden unexpected destruction.  As he that walks in slippery places is every moment liable to fall, he cannot foresee one moment whether he shall stand or fall the next; and when he does fall, he falls at once without warning: Which is also expressed in Psalm 73:18, 19.  “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places; thou castedst them down into destruction: How are they brought into desolation as in a moment!”

3.  Another thing implied is, that they are liable to fall of themselves, without being thrown down by the hand of another; as he that stands or walks on slippery ground needs nothing but his own weight to throw him down.

4.  That the reason why they are now fallen already, and do not fall now, is only that God’s appointed time is not come.  For it is said, that when that due time, or appointed time comes, their foot shall slide.  Then they shall be left to fall, as they are inclined by their own weight.  God will not hold them up in these slippery places any longer, but will let them go; and then, at that very instant, they shall fall into destruction; as he that stands on such slippery declining ground, on the edge of a pit, he cannot stand alone, when he is let go he immediately falls and is lost.

The observation from the words that I would not insist upon is this.  “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God”.  By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree, or in any respect whatsoever, any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.  The truth of this observation may appear by the following considerations.

1.  There is no want of power in God to cast wicked men into hell at any moment. Men’s hands cannot be strong when God rises up.  The strongest have no power to resist him, nor can any deliver out of his hands.  He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily do it.  Sometimes an earthly prince meets with a great deal of difficulty to subdue a rebel, who has found means to fortify himself, and has made himself strong by the numbers of his followers.  But it is not so with God.  There is no fortress that is any defence from the power of God.  Though hand join in hand, and vast multitudes of God’s enemies combine and associate themselves, they are easily broken in pieces.  They are as great heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind; or large quantities of dry stubble before devouring flames.  We find it easy to tread on and crush a worm that we see crawling on the earth; so it is easy for us to cut or singe a slender thread that any thing hangs by: thus easy is it for God, when he pleases, to cast his enemies down to hell.  What are we, that we should think to stand before him, at whose rebuke the earth trembles, and before whom the rocks are thrown down?

2.  They deserve to be cast into hell; so that divine justice never stands in the way, it makes no objection against God’s using his power at any moment to destroy them. Yea, on the contrary, justice calls aloud for an infinite punishment of their sins.  Divine justice says of the tree that brings forth such grapes of Sodom, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?”  (Luke 13:7).  The sword of divine justice is every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God’s mere will, that holds it back.

3.  They are already under a sentence of condemnation to hell. They do not only justly deserve to be cast down thither, but the sentence of the law of God, that eternal and immutable rule of righteousness that God has fixed between him and mankind, is gone out against them, and stands against them; so that they are bound over already to hell.  “He that believeth not is condemned already” (John 3:18).  So that every unconverted man properly belongs to hell; that is his place; from thence he is.  “Ye are from beneath” (John 8:23).  And thither he is bound; it is the place that justice, and God’s word, and the sentence of his unchangeable law assign to him.

4.  They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath of God, that is expressed in the torments of hell. And the reason why they do not go down to hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as he is with many miserable creatures now tormented in hell, who there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath.  Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation, who it may be are at ease, than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.

So that it is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so.  The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow.  The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.

5.  The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion.  The Scripture represents them as his goods (Luke 11:12).  The devils watch them; they are ever by them at their right hand; they stand waiting for them, like greedy hungry lions that see their prey, and expect to have it, but are for the present kept back.  If God should withdraw his hand, by which they are restrained, they would in one moment fly upon their poor souls.  The old serpent is gaping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost.

6.  There are in the souls of wicked men those hellish principles reigning, that would presently kindle and flame out into hell fire, if it were not for God’s restraints. There is laid in the very nature of carnal men, a foundation for the torments of hell.  There are those corrupt principles, in reigning power in them, and in full possession of them, that are seeds of hell fire.  These principles are active and powerful, exceeding violent in their nature, and if it were not for the restraining hand of God upon them, they would soon break out, they would flame out after the same manner as the same corruptions, the same enmity does in the hearts of damned souls, and would beget the same torments as they do in them.  The souls of the wicked are in Scripture compared to the troubled sea (Is. 62:20).  For the present, God restrains their wickedness by his mighty power, as he does the raging waves of the troubled sea, saying, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further;” but if God should withdraw that restraining power, it would soon carry all before it.  Sin is the ruin and misery of the soul; it is destructive in its nature; and if God should leave it without restraint, there would need nothing else to make the soul perfectly miserable.  The corruption of the heart of man is immoderate and boundless in its fury; and while wicked men live here, it is like fire pent up by God’s restraints, whereas if it were let loose, it would set on fire the course of nature; and as the heart is now a sink of sin, so if sin was not restrained, it would immediately turn the soul into a fiery oven, or a furnace of fire and brimstone.

7.  It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there is no visible danger in any respect in his circumstances.  The manifold and continual experience of the world in all ages, shows this is no evidence, that a man is not on the very brink of eternity, and that the next step will not be into another world.  The unseen, unthought-of ways and means of persons going suddenly out of the world are innumerable and inconceivable.  Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not bear their weight, and these places are not seen.  The arrows of death fly unseen at noonday; the sharpest sight cannot discern them.  God has so many different unsearchable ways of taking wicked men out of the world and sending them to hell, that there is nothing to make it appear, that God had need to be at the expense of a miracle, or go out of the ordinary course of his providence, to destroy any wicked man, at any moment.  All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world are so in God’s hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to his power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case.

8.  Natural men’s prudence and care to preserve their own lives, or the care of others to preserve them, do not secure them a moment. To this, divine providence and universal experience do also bear testimony.  There is this clear evidence that men’s own wisdom is no security to them from death; that if it were otherwise we should see some difference between the wise and politic men of the world, and others, with regard to their liableness to early and unexpected death: but how is it in fact?  “How dieth the wise man? even as the fool” (Eccl.  2:16).

9.  All wicked men’s pains and contrivance which they use to escape hell, while they continue to reject Christ, and so remain wicked men, do not secure them from hell one moment. Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do.  Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail.  They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done.  He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow.  The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it is not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape.  If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of that misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply,

“No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself: I thought my scheme good.  I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief: Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me.  Oh, my cursed foolishness!  I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then suddenly destruction came upon me.”

10.  God has laid himself under no obligation, by any promise to keep any natural man out of hell one moment. God certainly has made no promises either of eternal life, or of any deliverance or preservation from eternal death, but what are contained in the covenant of grace, the promises that are given in Christ, in whom all the promises are yea and amen.  But surely they have no interest in the promises of the covenant of grace who are not the children of the covenant, who do not believe in any of the promises, and have no interest in the Mediator of the covenant.

So that, whatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction.

So that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and swallow them up; the fire bent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them.  In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of; all that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.

APPLICATION

The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation.  This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ. That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you.  There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

You probably are not sensible of this; you find you are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it; but look at other things, as the good state of your bodily constitution, your care of your own life, and the means you use for your own preservation.  But indeed these things are nothing; if God should withdraw his hand, they would avail no more to keep you from falling, than the thin air to hold up a person that is suspended in it.

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a fallen rock.  Were it not for the sovereign pleasure of God, the earth would not bear you one moment; for you are a burden to it; the creation groans with you; the creature is made subject to the bondage of your corruption, not willingly; the sun does not willingly shine upon you to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon; the air does not willingly serve you for breath to maintain the flame of life in your vitals, while you spend your life in the service of God’s enemies.  God’s creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with, and do not willingly subserve to any other purpose, and groan when they are abused to purposes so directly contrary to their nature and end.  And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of him who hath subjected it in hope.  There are black clouds of God’s wrath now hanging directly over your heads, full of the dreadful storm, and big with thunder; and were it not for the restraining hand of God, it would immediately burst forth upon you.  The sovereign pleasure of God, for the present, stays his rough wind; otherwise it would come with fury, and your destruction would come like a whirlwind, and you would be like the chaff of the summer threshing floor.

The wrath of God is like great waters that are damned for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the longer the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course, when once it is let loose.  It is true, that judgment against your evil works has not been executed hitherto; the floods of God’s vengeance have been withheld; but your guilt in the meantime is constantly increasing, and you are every day treasuring up more wrath; the waters are constantly rising, and waxing more and more mighty; and there is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, that holds the waters back, that are unwilling to be stopped, and press hard to go forward.  If God should only withdraw his hand from the flood-gate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God, would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.

The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.  Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.  However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction.  However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it.  Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.  You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.  It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you were suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep.  And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up.  There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship.  Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner!  Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.  You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment.  And consider here more particularly,

1. Whose wrath it is: it is the wrath of the infinite God. If it were only the wrath of man, though it were of the most potent prince, it would be comparatively little to be regarded.  The wrath of kings is very much dreaded, especially of absolute monarchs, who have the possessions and lives of their subjects wholly in their power, to be disposed of at their mere will.  “The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: Whoso provoketh him to anger, sinneth against his own soul” (Prov. 20:2).  The subject that very much enrages an arbitrary prince, is liable to suffer the most extreme torments that human art can invent, or human power can inflict.  But the greatest earthly potentates in their greatest majesty and strength, and when clothed in their greatest terrors, are but feeble, despicable worms of the dust, in comparison of the great and almighty Creator and King of heaven and earth.  It is but little that they can do when most enraged, and when they have exerted the utmost of their fury.  All the kings of the earth, before God, are as grasshoppers; they are nothing, and less than nothing: both their love and their hatred is to be despised.  The wrath of the great King of kings, is as much more terrible than theirs, as his majesty is greater.  “And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that, have no more that they can do.  But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear: fear him, which after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Luke 12:4, 5).

2. It is the fierceness of his wrath that you are exposed to. We often read of the fury of God; as in Isaiah 59:18 “According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay fury to his adversaries.”  So Isaiah 66:15 “For behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.”  And in many other places.  So we read of “the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Rev. 19:15).  The words are exceeding terrible.  If it had only been said, “the wrath of God,” the words would have implied that which is infinitely dreadful: but it is “the fierceness and wrath of God.”  The fury of God! the fierceness of Jehovah!  Oh, how dreadful must that be!  Who can utter or conceive what such expressions carry in them!  But it is also “the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”  As though there would be a very great manifestation of his almighty power in what the fierceness of his wrath should inflict, as though omnipotence should be as it were enraged, and exerted, as men are wont to exert their strength in the fierceness of their wrath.  Oh! then, what will be the consequence!  What will become of the poor worms that shall suffer it!  Whose hands can be strong?  And whose heart can endure?  To what a dreadful, inexpressible, inconceivable depth of misery must the poor creature be sunk who shall be the subject of this!

Consider this you that are here present, that yet remain in an unregenerate state.  That God will execute the fierceness of his anger, implies, that he will inflict wrath without any pity.  When God beholds the ineffable extremity of your case, and sees your torment to be so vastly disproportioned to your strength, and sees how your poor soul is crushed, and sinks down, as it were, into an infinite gloom; he will have no compassion upon you, he will not forbear the executions of his wrath, or in the least lighten his hand; there shall be no moderation or mercy, nor will God then at all stay his rough wind; he will have no regard to your welfare, nor be at all careful lest you should suffer too much in any other sense, than only that you shall not suffer beyond what strict justice requires.  Nothing shall be withheld, because it is so hard for you to bear.  “Therefore will I also deal in fury: mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity; and though they cry in mine ears with a loud voice, yet I will not hear them” (Ezek. 8:18).  Now God stands ready to pity you; this is a day of mercy; you may cry now with some encouragement of obtaining mercy.  But when once the day of mercy is past, your most lamentable and dolorous cries and shrieks will be in vain; you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God, as to any regard to your welfare.  God will have no other use to put you to, but to suffer misery; you shall be continued in being to no other end; for you will be a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; and there will be no other use of this vessel, but to be filled full of wrath.  God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only “laugh and mock” (Prov. 1:25, 26, etc.).

How awful are those words which are the words of the great God.  “I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment” (Is. 63:3).  It is perhaps impossible to conceive of words that carry in them greater manifestations of these three things, viz. contempt, and hatred, and fierceness of indignation.  If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot.  And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment.  He will not only hate you, but he will have you, in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.

3. The misery you are exposed to is that which God will inflict to that end, that he might show what that wrath of Jehovah is. God hath had it on his heart to show to angels and men, both how excellent his love is, and also how terrible his wrath is.  Sometimes earthly kings have a mind to show how terrible their wrath is, by the extreme punishments they would execute on those that would provoke them.  Nebuchadnezzar, that mighty and haughty monarch of the Chaldean empire, was willing to show his wrath when enraged with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; and accordingly gave orders that the burning fiery furnace should be heated seven times hotter than it was before; doubtless, it was raised to the utmost degree of fierceness that human art could raise it. But the great God is also willing to show his wrath, and magnify his awful majesty and mighty power in the extreme sufferings of his enemies.  “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction?”  (Ro. 9:22).  And seeing this is his design, and what he has determined, even to show how terrible the unrestrained wrath, the fury and fierceness of Jehovah is, he will do it to effect.  There will be something accomplished and brought to pass that will be dreadful with a witness.  Then the great and angry God hath risen up and executed his awful vengeance on the poor sinner, and the wretch is actually suffering the infinite weight and power of his indignation, then will God call upon the whole universe to behold that awful majesty and mighty power that is to be seen in it.  “And the people shall be as the burnings of lime, as thorns cut up shall they be burnt in the fire.  Hear ye that are far off, what I have done; and ye that are near, acknowledge my might.  The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites…..” (Is.  33:12-14).

Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments.  You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.  “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.  And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Is. 66:23, 24).

4. It is everlasting wrath. It would be dreadful to suffer this fierceness and wrath of Almighty God one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity.  There will be no end to this exquisite horrible misery.  When you look forward, you shall see a long forever, a boundless duration before you, which will swallow up your thoughts, and amaze your soul; and you will absolutely despair of ever having any deliverance, any end, any mitigation, any rest at all.  You will know certainly that you must wear out long ages, millions of millions of ages, in wrestling and conflicting with this almighty merciless vengeance; and then when you have so done, when so many ages have actually been spent by you in this manner, you will know that all is but a point to what remains.  So that your punishment will indeed be infinite.  Oh, who can express what the state of a soul in such circumstances is!  All that we can possibly say about it, gives but a very feeble, faint representation of it; it is inexpressible and inconceivable: For “who knows the power of God’s anger?”

How dreadful is the state of those that are daily and hourly in the danger of this great wrath and infinite misery!  But this is the dismal case of every soul in this congregation that has not been born again, however moral and strict, sober and religious, they may otherwise be.  Oh that you would consider it, whether you be young or old!  There is reason to think, that there are many in this congregation now hearing this discourse, that will actually be the subjects of this very misery to all eternity.  We know not who they are, or in what seats they sit, or what thoughts they now have.  It may be they are now at ease, and hear all these things without much disturbance, and are now flattering themselves that they are not the persons, promising themselves that they shall escape.  If we knew that there was one person, and but one, in the whole congregation, that was to be the subject of this misery, what an awful thing would it be to think of!  If we knew who it was, what an awful sight would it be to see such a person!  How might all the rest of the congregation lift up a lamentable and bitter cry over him!  But, alas! instead of one, how many is it likely will remember this discourse in hell?  And it would be a wonder, if some that are now present should not be in hell in a very short time, even before this year is out.  And it would be no wonder if some persons, that now sit here, in some seats of this meeting house, in health, quiet and secure, should be there before tomorrow morning.  Those of you that finally continue in a natural condition, that shall keep out of hell longest will be there in a little time! your damnation does not slumber; it will come swiftly, and, in all probability, very suddenly upon many of you.  You have reason to wonder that you are not already in hell.  It is doubtless the case of some whom you have seen and known, that never deserved hell more than you, and that heretofore appeared as likely to have been now alive as you.  Their case is past all hope; they are crying in extreme misery and perfect despair; but here you are in the land of the living and in the house of God, and have an opportunity to obtain salvation.  What would not those poor damned hopeless souls give for one day’s opportunity such as you now enjoy!

And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God.  Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.  How awful is it to be left behind at such a day!  To see so many others feasting, while you are pining and perishing!  To see so many rejoicing and singing for joy of heart, while you have cause to mourn for sorrow of heart, and howl for vexation of spirit!  How can you rest one moment in such a condition?  Are not your souls as precious as the souls of the people at Suffield, where they are flocking from day to day to Christ?

Are there not many here who have lived long in the world, and are not to this day born again? and so are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and have done nothing ever since they have lived, but treasure up wrath against the day of wrath?  Oh, sirs, your case, in an especial manner, is extremely dangerous.  Your guilt and hardness of heart is extremely great.  Do you not see how generally persons of your years are passed over and left, in the present remarkable and wonderful dispensation of God’s mercy?  You have need to consider yourselves and awake thoroughly out of sleep.  You cannot bear the fierceness and wrath of the infinite God.  And you, young men, and young women, will you neglect this precious season which you now enjoy, when so many others of your age are renouncing all youthful vanities, and flocking to Christ?  You especially have now an extraordinary opportunity; but if you neglect it, it will soon be with you as with those persons who spent all the precious days of youth in sin, and are now come to such a dreadful pass in blindness and hardness.  And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night?  Will you be content to be the children of the devil, when so many other children in the land are converted, and are become the holy and happy children of the King of kings?

And let every one that is yet of Christ, and hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women, or middle aged, or young people, or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God’s word and providence.  This acceptable year of the Lord, a day of such great favours to some, will doubtless be a day of as remarkable vengeance to others.  Men’s hearts harden, and their guilt increases apace at such a day as this, if they neglect their souls; and never was there so great danger of such persons being given up to hardness of heart and blindness of mind.  God seems now to be hastily gathering in his elect in all parts of the land; and probably the greater part of adult persons that ever shall be saved, will be brought in now in a little time, and that it will be as it was on the great outpouring of the Spirit upon the Jews in the apostles’ days; the election will obtain, and the rest will be blinded.  If this should be the case with you, you will eternally curse this day, and will curse the day that ever you were born, to see such a season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, and will wish that you had died and gone to hell before you had seen it.  Now undoubtedly it is, as it was in the days of John the Baptist, the axe is in an extraordinary manner laid at the root of the trees, that every tree which brings not forth good fruit, may be hewn down and cast into the fire.

Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.  The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

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Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.  (Ps. 139:23–24).

Psalm 139 is a meditation on the omniscience of God. God views and perfectly knows everything. The psalmist represents that perfect knowledge by affirming that God knows all our actions (“Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up,” v. 2); all our thoughts (“Thou dost understand my thought from afar,” v. 2); all our words (“Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all,” v. 4).

Then he illustrates the impossibility of fleeing from the divine presence:

Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee (vv. 7–12).

Then he speaks of the knowledge God had of him before he was even born:

Thou didst form my inward parts; thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.… My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them (vv. 13, 15–16).

After this the psalmist observes what must be inferred as a necessary consequence of God’s omniscience: He will slay the wicked (v. 19).

Finally, the psalmist makes a practical application of his meditation on God’s omniscience: he begs God to search and test him, and see if there is any wicked way in him, and lead him in the everlasting way.

Obviously, the psalmist was not imploring God to search him so that God could gain any information. The whole point of the psalm is to declare that God already knows everything. Therefore, the psalmist must be praying for God to search him so that the psalmist himself might see and be informed of the sin in his own heart.

David obviously had examined his own heart and ways, but he did not trust that. He was still fearful that there might be some unknown sin in him that had escaped his own searching, so he cried to God to examine him.

Elsewhere, David wrote, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). By “hidden faults” he meant sins that were secret to himself—those sins that were in him that he was not aware of.

All of us ought to be concerned to know whether we live in ways of sin without even knowing it. Whether we entertain some secret lust or neglect some spiritual duty, our hidden sins are just as offensive to God and just as dishonoring to Him as the open, flagrant, known sins. Since we are prone to sin anyway and our natural hearts are full of sin, we must take special care to avoid those sins that are presumptuous, unintentional, and done in ignorance.

Why People Live in Sin Without Knowing It

Our trouble in seeing whether there be any wicked way in us is not because we lack external light. God has certainly not failed to tell us plainly and abundantly what wicked ways are. He has given us ample commandments to show us what we ought to do or not do, and these are clearly set before us in His Word. So our difficulty in knowing our own hearts is not because we lack the proper guidelines.

How can people live in ways that displease God—yet seem completely insensitive and go on utterly oblivious to their own sin? Several factors contribute to this evil tendency of humanity:

The blinding, deceitful nature of sin. The human heart is full of sin and corruption, and corruption has a spiritually blinding effect. Sin always carries a degree of darkness with it. The more it prevails, the more it darkens and deludes the mind. It blinds us to the reality of what is in our own hearts. Again, the problem is not at all that we lack the light of God’s truth. The light shines clearly enough around us, but the fault is in our own eyes; they are darkened and blinded by a deadly disability that results from sin.

Sin easily deceives because it controls the human will, and that colors the judgment. Where lust prevails, it disposes the mind to approve. Where sin influences our preferences, that sin seems pleasing and good. The mind is naturally prejudiced to think whatever is pleasing is right. Therefore when a sinful desire gains the will, it also prejudices the understanding. And the more a person walks in sin, the more that person’s mind will probably be darkened and blinded. That is how sin gains its mastery of people.

Therefore when people are unaware of their own sin, it can be extremely difficult to make them see the wrongness of it. After all, the same evil desires that lead them into sin blind them in it. The more an angry person gives in to malice or envy, the more those sins blind the understanding to approve of them. The more a man hates his neighbor, the more he will be disposed to think that he has good cause to hate, and that the neighbor is hateful, and that he deserves to be hated, and that it is not his duty to love him. The more a man’s impure lust prevails, the more sweet and pleasant the sin will appear, and the more he will be inclined to think there is no evil in it.

Likewise, the more a person covets material things, the more likely he is to think himself excusable in doing so. He will tell himself that he needs certain things and cannot do without them. If they are necessary, he reasons, it is no sin to desire them. All the lusts of the human heart can be justified in such a way. And the more they prevail, the more they blind the mind and influence the judgment to approve of them. That is why Scripture calls worldly appetites “lusts of deceit” (Eph. 4:22). Even godly people may for a time be blinded and deluded by lust, so that they live in a way which is displeasing to God.

Lusts also stir up the carnal mind to invent excuses for sinful practices. Human nature is very subtle when it comes to rationalizing sin. Some people are so strongly devoted to their wickedness that when conscience troubles them about it, they will rack their brains to find arguments to stop the mouth of conscience and make themselves believe they may proceed lawfully in a sinful practice.

Self-love also prejudices people to condone their own sin. People do not like to condemn themselves. They are naturally prejudiced in their own favor. So they will look for good names by which to call their sinful dispositions and practices. They will make them virtuous—or at least they will make them innocent. They label covetousness “prudence” or call greed “business savvy.” If they rejoice at another’s calamity, they pretend it is because they hope it will do the person good. If they drink too much, it is because their constitutions require it. If they backbite or talk against their neighbor, they claim it is only zeal against sin. If they get into a dispute, they call their stubbornness conscience, and categorize their petty disagreements as matters of principle. Thus they find good names for all their evil ways.

People tend to shape their principles according to their practices rather than vice versa. Rather than allowing their behavior to conform to their consciences, they will expend tremendous energy trying to get their consciences to conform to their behavior.

Because sin is so deceitful, and because we have so much sin dwelling in our hearts, it is difficult for us to judge our own ways and practices righteously. On this account we should make diligent self-examination and be much concerned to know whether there is any wicked way in us. “Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12–13).

People more easily see faults in others than in themselves. When they see others do wrong, they immediately condemn them—even while excusing themselves for the very same sin! (cf. Rom. 2:1). We all see the specks in others’ eyes better than the beams in our own. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2). “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). We cannot trust our own hearts in this matter. Instead, we must keep a protective eye on ourselves, interrogate our own hearts carefully, and cry to God that he will search us thoroughly. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26).

The subtlety of Satan. The devil works hand in hand with our own deceitful lusts. He labors to blind us to our own faults. He continually endeavors to lead us into sin, then works with our carnal minds to flatter us with the idea we are better than we are. He thus blinds the conscience. He is the prince of darkness. Blinding and deceiving have been his work ever since he began it with our first parents.

The power of habit. Some people are oblivious to the sins they practice out of habit. Habitual sins often stupefy the mind, so that sins that once pricked the conscience begin to seem harmless.

The example of others. Some people become desensitized to their own sin because they let popular opinion dictate their standards. They look to the behavior of others to discern what is right and wrong. But society is so tolerant of sin that many sins have become destigmatized. Things that displease God and are abominations in His sight appear innocent when viewed through the eyes of popular opinion. Perhaps we see them practiced by those whom we esteem highly, by our superiors, and by those who are accounted wise. That greatly slants the mind in favor of them and diminishes the sense of their evil. It is especially dangerous when godly men, respected Christian leaders, are seen engaging in sinful practices. That especially tends to harden the observer’s heart and blind the mind with respect to any evil habit.

Incomplete obedience. Those who obey God halfheartedly or incompletely are in great danger of living in undetected sin. Some professing Christians neglect half of their spiritual duties while concentrating on the other half. Perhaps their thoughts will be wholly taken up with secret prayer, Bible reading, public worship, meditation, and other religious duties—while ignoring moral duties, such as their responsibilities to their spouse, their children, or their neighbors.

They know they must not defraud their neighbor, lie, or fornicate. But they seem not to consider what an evil it is to talk against others lightly, to take up a reproach against a neighbor, to contend and quarrel with people, to live hypocritically before their families, or to neglect their children’s spiritual instruction.

Such people may seem very conscientious in some things—those branches of their duty on which they keep their eye—but they may entirely neglect other important branches.

How to Discover the Unknown Sin Within

As we have observed, it is naturally very difficult to assess our own sin honestly. But if we are sufficiently concerned about it, and if we are strict and thorough in searching our own hearts, we can, for the most part, discover the sin within. Persons who want to please and obey God, with all the light we enjoy, certainly do not need to go on in the ways of sin through ignorance.

It is true that our hearts are exceedingly deceitful. But God, in His holy Word, has given sufficient light for the state of darkness we are in. By thorough care and inquiry, we may know our spiritual responsibilities, and we can know whether we are living in any sinful way. Everyone with any true love for God will be glad for biblical assistance in this inquiry. Such persons are deeply concerned to walk in all things as God would have them walk, so as to please and honor Him. If their lives are in any way offensive to God, they will be glad to know it and would by no means choose to have their own sin concealed from them.

Also, those who sincerely inquire, What shall I do to be saved? will want to identify the sin in their lives. For their sin is what keeps them from Christ.

There are two means by which we come to the knowledge of our own sin:

Knowledge of God’s law. If you desire to know whether you live in some unknown sin, you must become thoroughly acquainted with what God requires of you. In Scripture God has given us a true and perfect guide by which we ought to walk. He has expressed His precepts clearly and abundantly, so that we might be able to know—despite our own spiritual darkness and disadvantages—precisely what He requires of us. What a full and abundant revelation of God’s mind we have in the Scriptures!  How plain it is in instructing us how to behave! How often the precepts are repeated! And how explicitly they are revealed in so many various forms so that we might fully understand them!

But what good is all that if we neglect God’s revelation and make no effort to become acquainted with it? What good is it to have godly principles yet not know them? Why should God reveal His mind to us if we don’t care enough to know what it is?

Yet the only way we can know whether we are sinning is by knowing His moral law: “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Therefore if we don’t want to go on displeasing God, we ought to study diligently the principles of right and wrong He has revealed. We ought to read and search the Holy Scriptures much. And we ought to do it with the intention of knowing our whole duty, so that the Word of God may be “a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our paths” (Ps. 119:105).

That being so, it is clear that most people are very much guilty simply because of their negligence of spiritual duties. They are blameworthy first of all because they disregard God’s Word and other resources that might inform them. They act as if such study were the work of ministers only. Such ignorance is often willful, deliberate carelessness. If they are unaware of what God demands of them, it is their own fault. They have enough opportunities to know, and they could know if they wanted to. Furthermore, they take pains to acquire other kinds of knowledge. They are well trained in whatever worldly interests strike their fancy. They learn whatever is necessary to earn a living in this world. But they will not expend any energy in spiritual pursuits that count for eternity.

Knowledge of ourselves. Second, if you desire to know whether you are harboring secret sin, you must examine yourself. Compare your life with God’s law to see if you conform to the divine standard. That is the primary way we must discover our own character. This is an important difference between human beings and brute creatures: a human is capable of self-reflection, contemplating his own actions, and evaluating the nature and quality of them. Doubtless it was partly for this very reason that God gave us this power—so that we might know ourselves, and consider our own ways.

We must examine ourselves until we satisfactorily discover either agreement or disagreement with the principles of Scripture. This requires the utmost diligence, lest we overlook our own irregularities, or lest some evil way in us should lie hidden under disguise.

How to Examine Yourself

You might think we would already be better acquainted with ourselves than with anything else. After all, we are always present with ourselves. We are immediately conscious of our own actions. We instantly know about everything that happens within us and everything that we do.

But in some respects the true knowledge of ourselves is harder to obtain than almost anything else. We therefore must pry diligently into the secrets of our own hearts and examine carefully all our ways and practices. Here are some guidelines to help in this process:

Always join self-reflection with your reading and hearing of God’s Word. When you read the Bible or hear sermons, reflect on yourself, comparing your own ways with what you read or hear. Ponder what agreement or disagreement there is between the Word and your ways. The Scriptures testify against all kinds of sin, and contain directions for every spiritual responsibility, as Paul wrote: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17, emphasis added). Therefore when you read the commandments given by Christ and His apostles, ask yourself, Do I live according to this rule? Or do I live in any way contrary to it?

When you read in the historical parts of Scripture about the sins others have been guilty of, reflect on yourself as you go along. Ask yourself whether you are guilty of similar sins. When you read how God reproved the sins of others and executed judgments on them for their sins, ask whether you deserve similar chastisement. When you read the examples of Christ and the saints, ask yourself whether you live in ways contrary to their example. When you read how God commended and rewarded His people for their virtues and good deeds, ask whether you deserve the same blessing. Make use of the Word as a mirror in which you carefully inspect yourself—and be a doer of the Word (Jas. 1:23–25).

How few are there who do this as they should! While the minister is testifying against sin, most are busy thinking how others fail to measure up. They may hear hundreds of things in sermons that properly apply to them; yet it never so much as comes into their minds that what the preacher is saying in any way concerns them. Their minds readily fix on other people whom the message seems to fit, but they never think whether they themselves need the message.

If you do things that are generally avoided by people who are discerning and mature, be especially careful to ask yourself if such activities might actually be sinful. Perhaps you have argued with yourself that such and such a practice is lawful; you don’t see any evil in it. But if the thing is generally condemned by godly people, it certainly looks suspicious. You may be wise to consider conscientiously whether it is actually displeasing to God. If a practice is generally disapproved of by those who in such cases are most likely to be right, you ought to consider all the more carefully whether the thing in question is lawful or unlawful.

Ask yourself whether on your deathbed you will have pleasant memories of the way you have lived. Healthy people often indulge in activities they would not dare do if they thought they would soon stand before the Lord. They think of death as something in the distance, so they find it much easier to still their consciences about what they are doing today. Yet if they thought they might soon die, they would not find it so comfortable to contemplate such activities. Conscience is not so easily blinded and muffled when the end of life appears imminent.

Ask yourself solemnly, therefore, whether you are doing anything now that might trouble you on your deathbed. Think over your ways and test yourself with the sobering expectation of soon going out of the world into eternity. Earnestly endeavor to judge impartially what things you will be glad for on a deathbed—as well as what you will disapprove of, and wish you had left alone.

Consider what others may say of you. Although people are blind to their own faults, they easily discover the faults of others—and are apt enough to speak of them. Sometimes people live in ways that are not at all appropriate, yet they are blind to it themselves. They do not see their own shortcomings, though the faults are perfectly plain and evident to others. They themselves cannot see their failings, yet others cannot shut their eyes or avoid seeing where they fall short.

Some people, for instance, are very proud without knowing it. But the problem appears notorious to others. Some are very worldly; yet they seem not to be aware of it themselves. Some are malicious and envious. Others see it, and to them it appears truly hateful. Yet the very ones with the problem do not reflect on it. There is no trusting our own hearts or our own eyes in such cases. So we must hear what others say of us, observe what they charge us with, heed what fault they find with us, and strictly examine whether there is some foundation for it.

If others charge us with being proud, worldly, or spiteful and malicious—or accuse us of any other ill temper or practice—we should ask ourselves honestly whether it is so. The accusation may seem to us to be altogether groundless, and we may think that the accuser’s motives or spirit are wrong. But the discerning person will see it as an occasion for self-examination.

We should especially listen to what our friends say to us and about us. It is foolhardy, as well as unchristian, to take offense, and resent it, when we are thus told of our faults. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). We should rejoice that we are shown our spots.

But also we should heed what our enemies accuse us of. If they reproach and revile us to our faces—even out of a wrong attitude—we should ponder it enough to reflect inwardly, and ask ourselves whether there is any truth in it. Even if what is said comes across in a reproachful, reviling manner, there may still be much truth in it. When people criticize others, even when their motives for criticizing are wrong, they are nevertheless likely to target real faults. In fact, our enemies are likely to attack us where we are weakest and most defective, and where we have given them most grounds to criticize. They are most prone to attack us where we can least defend ourselves. Those who revile us—though they do it from an unchristian spirit and in an unchristian manner—will usually identify the very areas where we are the most blameworthy.

So when we hear of others talking against us behind our backs, no matter what the spirit of the criticism, the right response is to reflect upon ourselves, and consider whether we indeed are guilty of the faults they lay to our charge. That is certainly a more godly response than to be in a rage, to revile in return, or to despise them for their evil-speaking. Thus we may get good out of evil, and it is the surest way to defeat the designs of our enemies who revile and backbite against us. They do it from wrong motives, wanting to injure us. But in this way we may turn it to our own good.

When you see others’ faults, examine whether you have the same deficiencies in yourself. Too many people are ready to speak of others’ faults when they have the very same shortcomings. Nothing is more common than for proud men to accuse others of pride. Likewise it is common for dishonest men to complain of being wronged by others. Evil traits and practices in others appear much more odious in others than they do in ourselves. We can easily see how contemptible this or that sin is in someone else. We see so readily in others what a hateful thing pride is, or how evil malice can be, or how pernicious other faults can be. But though we can easily see such imperfections in others, when we look at ourselves, those things are obscured by a mirror of deceit.

Therefore when you see others’ faults, when you notice how someone else acts amiss, what an unkind attitude he shows, or how unsuitable her behavior is, when you hear others speak of it, or when you find fault with others in their dealings with you—reflect. Consider whether there is any similar shortcoming in your own conduct or attitude. Realize that these things are just as unbecoming and offensive in you as they are in others. Pride, or a haughty spirit and mannerisms, are as odious in you as they are in your neighbor. Your own malicious and revengeful spirit toward your neighbor is just as despicable as his malicious and revengeful spirit toward you. It is just as sinful for you to wrong or deceive your neighbor as it is for him to wrong or deceive you. It is just as destructive and unkind for you to talk against others behind their backs as it is for them to do the same to you.

Consider how others are blind to their own sins, and ask yourself if you suffer from the same kind of blindness. You know that others are blinded by their lusts. Could it be that some carnal appetite or lust of the mind has blinded you? You see how others are blinded by their worldliness. Ask whether your own attachment to this world might be blinding you in a way that causes you to justify things in your life that are not right. You are as prone to be blinded by sinful desires as others. You have the same deceitful and desperately wicked heart. “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man” (Prov. 27:19).

Search Your Conscience for Secret Sins

Examine the secrets of your own heart. Do you live with some hidden sin? Do you neglect some duty only you and God know about? Do you indulge in some secret practice that is offensive to the all-seeing eye of God? Examine yourself concerning all your private responsibilities: Bible reading, meditation, secret prayer. Do you fulfill those duties at all? And if so, do you fulfill them in an unsteady and careless manner? What is your behavior like when you are hid from the eye of the world—when you have no restraints other than conscience? What does your own conscience tell you?

I will mention two matters in particular:

Ask yourself whether you neglect the reading of God’s Word. The Bible was surely written to be read—not only by ministers, but by the people, too. It is not enough to have read the Bible once, or to read it once in a great while. The Scriptures were given to be with us continually, to act as our rule of life. Just as the craftsman must have his yardstick and the blind man his guide, just as he who walks in darkness carries a light, so the Bible was meant to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).

Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” Deuteronomy 6:6–9 commanded the Israelites,

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

In the same way Christ commands us to search the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39). These are mines in which we are to dig for hidden treasures. Do you neglect this duty?

Ask yourself whether you are secretly gratifying some sensual lust. There are many ways and degrees of gratifying our carnal lusts, but every one of them is provoking to a holy God. Even if you refrain from gross indulgences, do you in some way secretly from time to time gratify your lusts and allow yourself to taste the sweets of unlawful delight?

Do you realize that it is offensive to God even when we gratify a lust only in our thoughts and imagination? Are you guilty of this sin?


The Danger of Unforsaken Sin

You have had directions laid before you on how to examine yourself for sin you may be unaware of. How are things in your own life? Do you find that you are living in some sinful way? I’m not asking whether you find yourself clear from sin. That is not expected of you, for there is no one who does not sin (1 Ki. 8:46). But is there some way of sin in which you live, which is your lifestyle or practice? There are doubtless some who are clear in this matter, some “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.… who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways” (Ps. 119:1–3).

Let your own conscience answer how you find your own life. Are you guilty? Do you practice some sin as a matter of habit? Have you allowed yourself to do so? If that is the case, consider the following things:

If you have been seeking salvation and not yet found it, some way of sin in your life may be the reason. You may have wondered what is the matter when you have long been concerned about your salvation—when you have sought it diligently—yet to no avail. You have many times cried to God, yet He does not regard you. Others obtain comfort, yet you remain in darkness. But is it any wonder at all, if you have held on to your sin for so long? Isn’t this a sufficient reason why all your prayers and all your pleas have been blasted?

If you are trying to retain your sin while seeking the Savior, you are not seeking salvation the right way. The right way is to turn from your ungodliness. If there is one member that is corrupt and you don’t cut it off, there is danger that it will carry you to hell (Matt. 5:29–30).

If grace seems to be languishing rather than flourishing in your soul, perhaps some way of sin is the cause. The way to grow in grace is to walk in obedience, and to be very thorough in doing so. Grace will flourish in the hearts of all who live in this manner. If you live in some way of sin, however, it will be like some secret disease eating at your vitals. Sin will thus keep you poor, weak, and languishing.

Just one sin practiced habitually will suppress your spiritual prosperity and will diminish the growth and strength of grace in your heart. It will grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). It will prevent the good influence of God’s Word. As long as it remains it will be like an ulcer, keeping you weak and lean, though you be fed the most wholesome spiritual food.

If you have fallen into great sin, perhaps some way of sin in your life was the underlying root of your greater failure. A person who does not avoid every sin and is not meticulously obedient cannot be guarded against great sins. The sin in which he lives will always be an inlet, an open door, by which Satan will find entrance. It is like a breach in your fortress through which the enemy may get in and find his way to hurt you greatly. If you have fallen into some horrible sin, perhaps this is the reason.

Or if you allow some way of sin as an outlet for your own corruption, it will be like a breach in a dam, which if left alone will grow bigger and bigger until it cannot be stopped.

If you live very much in spiritual darkness, without sensing God’s presence, it may be that some way of sin is the reason. If you complain that you have little sweet communion with God; if you feel God has deserted you; if God seems to hide His face from you and seldom shows you evidences of His glory and grace; or if you seem left to grope in darkness and wander in the wilderness—this may be the reason. Perhaps you have cried to God often. Perhaps you experience sleepless nights and sorrowful days. If you are living in some way of sin, it is very probable that is the cause, the root of your mischief, the Achan, the troubler that offends God and brings so many clouds of darkness over your soul. You are grieving the Holy Spirit, and that is why you have no comfort from Him.

Christ promised He would disclose Himself to His disciples. But it is on the condition that they keep His commands: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him” (Jn. 14:21). But if you habitually live in disobedience to any of His commandments, then it is no wonder He does not give you reassuring manifestations of Himself. The way to receive God’s favor is to walk closely with Him.

If you have been doubting your salvation, perhaps some way of sin in your life has stoked those doubts. The best way to gain clear evidence of your salvation is by a close walk with God. This, as we have already observed, is also the way to have grace flourishing in the soul. And the more lively God’s grace is in us, the more likely it is to be seen. When Christ is disclosing Himself to us, we have the reassurance of His love and favor.

But if you live in some way of sin, it is no wonder if that greatly diminishes your assurance. After all, it subdues the exercise of grace and hides the light of God’s countenance. It may be that you will never know whether you are a true Christian or not until you have wholly forsaken the way of sin in which you live.

If you have met with the frowns of Providence, perhaps some way of sin in your life explains why. When you have received sore rebukes and chastisements, it is very probable that your practicing a sinful habit or tolerating an evil act is what has caused you the trouble. Sometimes God is exceedingly severe in His dealings with His own people for their sins in this world. Moses and Aaron were not permitted to enter Canaan because they disobeyed God and sinned with their lips at the waters of Meribah. And how terrible was God in His dealings with David! What affliction did He send upon him through his family! One of his sons raped his sister; another murdered his brother; and having expelled his father out of his own kingdom in the sight of all Israel, he defiled his father’s concubines on the housetop in full view of everyone. In the end he met with a terrible demise that utterly broke his father’s heart (2 Sam. 18:33). Immediately after that followed the rebellion of Sheba (2 Sam. 20). Then at the end of his life, David saw another of his sons usurping the crown.

How harshly did God deal with Eli for living in the sin of not restraining his children from wickedness! Both sons were killed in one day, and Eli himself died a violent death. The ark was taken into captivity (1 Sam. 4). Eli’s house was cursed forever; God Himself swore that the iniquity of Eli’s house would never be purged by sacrifice and offerings (1 Sam 3:13–14). The priesthood was taken from Eli and given to another line. And there never again was an old man in Eli’s family (1 Sam. 12:31).

Is the way of sin in which you live the reason for the rebukes of Providence you have met with? True, it is not the proper business of your neighbors to judge you with respect to events of Providence, but you certainly ought to inquire yourself whether God is contending with you (Job 10:2).

If death is a fearful thought for you, perhaps it is because you are living in some way of sin. When you think of dying, do you find yourself shrinking back at the thought? When you have an illness, or when something threatens your life, are you frightened? Are thoughts of dying and going into eternity alarming to you, even though you profess to be a Christian?

If you are living in some sinful way, that is probably the foundation of your fears. Sin keeps your mind sensual and worldly and hinders a lively sense of heaven and heavenly enjoyments. Sin keeps grace low and prevents the anticipation of heavenly comforts you would otherwise have. Sin prevents your having the comforting sense of the divine favor and presence. Without that, no wonder you cannot look death in the face without terror.

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The following are some reasons why grace to persevere is promised in the covenant of grace.

1. God’s Better Covenant

God, when he had laid out himself to glorify his mercy and grace in the redemption of poor fallen men, did not see meet that those who are redeemed by Christ should be redeemed so imperfectly, as still to have the work of perseverance left in their own hands.  They had been found already insufficient for this even in their perfect state, and are now ten times more liable than formerly to fall away and not to persevere, if in their fallen broken state, with their imperfect sanctification, the care of the matter be trusted with them.  Man, though redeemed by Christ so as to have the Holy Spirit of God, and spiritual life again restored in a degree, yet is left a poor, piteous creature, because all is dependent [“suspended,” Edwards’ term throughout] on his perseverance as it was at first.  And the care of that affair is left with him as it was then, and he is ten times more likely to fall away than he was then, if we consider only what he was in himself to preserve him from it.  The poor creature sees his own insufficiency to stand, from what has happened in time past.  His own instability has been his undoing already, and now he is vastly more unstable than before.

The great thing wherein the first covenant was deficient was that the fulfillment of the righteousness of the covenant, and man’s perseverance, was entrusted with man himself, with nothing better to secure it than his own strength.  And therefore, God introduces a better, which should be an everlasting covenant, a new and living way, wherein that which was wanting in the first should be supplied, and a remedy should be provided against that, which under the first covenant proved man’s undoing, viz. man’s own weakness and instability, by a Mediator being given, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever: who cannot fail, who should undertake for his people and take care of them.  He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God through him, and ever lives to make intercession for them.  God did not see it fit that man should be trusted to stand in his own strength a second time. It is not fit that in a covenant of grace, wherein all is of mere, free, and absolute grace, that the reward of life should be dependent on the perseverance of man, as dependent on the strength and steadfastness of his own will.  It is a covenant of works, and not a covenant of grace that suspends eternal life on what is the fruit of a man’s own strength.

Eternal life was to have been of works in those two respects, viz. as it was to have been for man’s own righteousness, and as it was dependent on the fruit of his own strength.  For though our first parent depended on the grace of God, the influence of his Spirit in his heart, yet that grace was given him already, and dwelt in him constantly, and without interruption, in such a degree as to hold him above any lust or sinful habit or principle.  Eternal life was not merely dependent on that grace that was given him, and dwelt in him, but on his improvement of that grace which he already had.  For in order to [effect] his perseverance, there was nothing further promised beyond his own strength, no extraordinary occasional assistance was promised.  It was not promised but that man should be left to himself as he was.  But the new covenant is of grace, in a manner distinguishing from the old, in both these respects, that the reward of life is dependent neither on his own strength nor worthiness. It provides something above either.  But if eternal life under the new covenant was dependent on man’s own perseverance, or his perseveringly using diligent endeavors to stand without the promise of anything farther to ascertain it than his own strength, it would herein be farther from being worthy to be called a covenant of grace than the first covenant, because man’s strength is exceedingly less than it was then, and he is under far less advantages to persevere.  And if he should obtain eternal life by perseverance in his own strength now, eternal life would, with respect to that, be much more of himself than it would have been by the first covenant, because perseverance now would be a much greater thing than under those circumstances.  And he has but an exceeding small part of that grace dwelling in him, to assist him, than he had then, and that which he has, does not dwell in him in the exercise of it by such a constant law as grace did then, but is put into exercise by the spirit of grace, in a far more arbitrary and sovereign way.

2. Christ’s Finished Work

Again, Christ came into the world to do that in which mere men failed.  He came as a better surety, and that in him those defects might be supplied, which proved to be in our first surety, and that we might have a remedy for the mischief that came by those defects.  But the defect of our first surety was that he did not persevere.  He wanted steadfastness, and therefore God sent us, in the next surety, one that could not fail, but should surely persevere.  But this is no supply of that defect to us, if the reward of life be still dependent on perseverance, which has nothing, as to ourselves, greater to secure it still, than the strength of mere man.  And the perseverance of our second surety is no remedy against the like mischief, which came by failure of our first surety.  But on the contrary, we are much more exposed to the mischief than before.  This perseverance depended indeed on the strength of mere man, but now (on the supposition) it would be dependent on the strength of fallen man.

In that our first surety [Adam] did not persevere, we fell in and with him, for doubtless, if he had stood, we should have stood with him.  And therefore, when God in mercy has given us a better surety to supply the defects of the first, a surety that might stand and persevere, and one that has actually persevered through the greatest imaginable trials, then doubtless we shall stand and persevere in him.  After all this, eternal life will not be dependent on our own poor, feeble, broken strength.

Our first surety, if he had stood, would have been brought to eat of the tree of life, as a seal of a confirmed state of life in persevering and everlasting holiness and happiness, and he would have eaten of this tree of life as a seal of persevering confirmed life, not only for himself, but as our head.  As when he ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he tasted as our head, and so brought death on himself and all his posterity.  So if he had persevered and had eaten of the tree of life, he would have tasted of that as our head, and therein life and confirmed holiness would have been sealed to him and all his posterity.

But Christ, the second Adam, acts the same part for us that the first Adam was to have done, but failed.  He has fulfilled the law, and has been admitted to the seals of confirmed and everlasting life.  God, as a testimony and seal of his acceptance of what he had done as the condition of life, raised him from the dead, and exalted him with his own right hand, received him up into glory, and gave all things into his hands.  Thus the second Adam has persevered, not only for himself, but for us, and has been sealed to confirmed and persevering and eternal life, as our head: so that all those that are his, and who are his spiritual posterity, are sealed in him to persevering life.  Here it will be in vain to object that persons’ persevering in faith and holiness is the condition of their being admitted to the state of Christ’s posterity, or to a right in him, and that none are admitted as such till they have first persevered.  For this is as much as to say that Christ has no church in this world, and that there are none on this side the grave admitted as his children or people, because they have not yet actually persevered to the end of life, which is the condition of their being admitted as his children and people, which is contrary to the whole Scripture.

Christ having finished the work of Adam for us, does more than merely to bring us back to the probationary state of Adam, while Adam had yet his work to finish, knowing his eternal life [was] uncertain, because [it was] dependent on his uncertain perseverance.  That alone is inconsistent with Christ’s being a second Adam.  For if Christ, succeeding in Adam’s room, has done and gone through the work that Adam was to have done, and did this as our representative or surety, he has not only thereby set us in Adam’s probationary, uncertain state, but has [also] carried us, who are in him, and are represented by him, through Adam’s working probationary state, unto that confirmed state that Adam should have arrived at, if he had gone through his own work.

3. The Saints’ Completed Salvation

That the saints shall surely persevere, will necessarily follow from this, that they have already performed the obedience which is the righteousness by which they have justification unto life (or it is already performed for them and imputed to them), for that supposes that it is the same thing in the sight of God as if they had performed it.  Now when the creature has once actually performed and finished the righteousness of the law, he is immediately sealed and confirmed to eternal life.  There is nothing to keep him from the tree of life.  But as soon as ever a believer has Christ’s righteousness imputed to him, he has virtually finished the righteousness of the law.

To suppose that a right to life is dependent on our own perseverance, which is uncertain, and has nothing more sure and steadfast to secure it than our own good-wills and resolutions (which way soever we suppose it to be dependent on the strength of our resolutions and wills, either with assistance, or in the improvement of assistance, or in seeking assistance), is exceedingly dissonant to the nature and design of the gospel scheme.  For if it were so, it would unavoidably deprive the believer of the comfort, hope, and joy of salvation: which would be very contrary to God’s design in the scheme of man’s salvation, which is to make the ground of our peace and joy in all respects strong and sure.  Or else, he must depend much on himself, and the ground of his joy and hope must in a great measure be his own strength, and the steadfastness of his own heart, the unchangeableness of his own resolutions, etc., which would be very different from the gospel scheme.

From Miscellany 695. Headers have been added by the editor.

Reasons Assurance Is Not Attained

J. C. Ryle

I come now to the last thing of which I spoke.  I promised to point out to you some probable causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained. I will do it very shortly.

This is a very serious question, and ought to raise in all great searchings of heart.  Few, certainly, of Christ’s people seem to reach up to this blessed spirit of assurance.  Many comparatively believe, but few are persuaded.  Many comparatively have saving faith, but few that glorious confidence which shines forth in the language of St. Paul.  That such is the case, I think we must all allow.

Now, why is this so? —Why is a thing which two Apostles have strongly enjoined us to seek after, a thing of which few believers have any experimental [knowledge by experience] knowledge?  Why is an assured hope so rare?

I desire to offer a few suggestions on this point, with all humility.  I know that many have never attained assurance, at whose feet I would gladly sit both in earth and heaven.  Perhaps the Lord sees something in the natural temperament of some of His children, which makes assurance not good for them.  Perhaps, in order to be kept in spiritual health, they need to be kept very low.  God only knows.  Still, after every allowance, I fear there are many believers without an assured hope, whose case may too often be explained by causes such as these.

1. One most common cause, I suspect, is a defective view of the doctrine of justification.

I am inclined to think that justification and sanctification are insensibly confused together in the minds of many believers.  They receive the Gospel truth, —that there must be something done IN US, as well as something done FOR US, if we are true members of Christ; and so far they are right.  But, then, without being aware of it, perhaps, they seem to imbibe the idea that their justification is, in some degree, affected by something within themselves.  They do not clearly see that Christ’s work, not their own work,—either in whole or in part, either directly or indirectly,—is the alone ground of our acceptance with God; that justification is a thing entirely without us, for which nothing whatever is needful on our part but simple faith,—and that the weakest believer is as fully and completely justified as the strongest.

Many appear to forget that we are saved and justified as sinners, and only sinners; and that we never can attain to anything higher, if we live to the age of Methuselah.  Redeemed sinners, justified sinners, and renewed sinners doubtless we must be, —but sinners, sinners, sinners, always to the very last.  They do not seem to comprehend that there is a wide difference between our justification and our sanctification.  Our justification is a perfect finished work, and admits of no degrees.  Our sanctification is imperfect and incomplete, and will be to the last hour of our life.  They appear to expect that a believer may at some period of his life be in a measure free from corruption, and attain to a kind of inward perfection.  And not finding this angelic state of things in their own hearts, they at once conclude there must be something very wrong in their state.  And so they go mourning all their days, —oppressed with fears that they have no part or lot in Christ, and refusing to be comforted.

Reader, consider this point well.  If any believing soul desires assurance, and has not got it, let him ask himself, first of all, if he is quite sure he is sound in the faith, if his loins are thoroughly “girt about with truth,” and his eyes thoroughly clear in the matter of justification.  He must know what it is simply to believe before he can expect to feel assured.

Believe me, the old Galatian heresy is the most fertile source of error, both in doctrine and in practice.  Seek clearer views of Christ, and what Christ has done for you.  Happy is the man who really understands justification by faith without the deeds of the law.

2. Another common cause of the absence of assurance is, slothfulness about growth in grace.

I suspect many true believers hold dangerous and unscriptural views on this point: I do not of course mean intentionally, but they do hold them.  Many appear to me to think that once converted, they have little more to attend to, and that a state of salvation is a kind of easy chair, in which they may just sit still, lie back, and be happy.  They seem to fancy that grace is given them that they may enjoy it, and they forget that it is given, like a talent, to be used, employed, and improved.  Such persons lose sight of the many direct injunctions “to increase, —to grow, —to abound more and more, —to add to our faith,” and the like; and in this little-doing condition, this sitting-still state of mind, I never marvel that they miss assurance.

I believe it ought to be our continual aim and desire to go forward; and our watchword at the beginning of every year should be, “More and more” (1 Thess. 4:1): more knowledge, —more faith, —more obedience, —more love.  If we have brought forth thirty-fold, we should seek to bring forth sixty, and if we have brought forth sixty, we should strive to bring forth a hundred.  The will of the Lord is our sanctification, and it ought to be our will too.  (Matt. 13:23; 1 Thess. 4:3)

One thing, at all events, we may depend upon, —there is an inseparable connection between diligence and assurance.  “Give diligence,” says Peter, “to make your calling and election sure.”  (2 Peter 1:10)  “We desire,” says Paul, “that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end.” (Heb. 6:11)  “The soul of the diligent,” says Solomon, “shall be made fat.” (Prov. 13:4)   There is much truth in the old maxim of the Puritans: “Faith of adherence comes by hearing, but faith of assurance comes not without doing.”

Reader, mark my words.  Are you one of those who desires assurance, but have not got it?  You will never get it without diligence, however much you may desire it.  There are no gains without pains in spiritual things, any more than in temporal.  “The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing.”  (Prov. 13:4)

3. Another common cause of a want of assurance is, an inconsistent walk in life.

With grief and sorrow, I feel constrained to say, I fear nothing in this day more frequently prevents men attaining an assured hope than this.  The stream of professing Christianity is far wider than it formerly was, and I am afraid we must admit, at the same time, it is much less deep.

Inconsistency of life is utterly destructive of peace of conscience.  The two things are incompatible.  They cannot and they will not go together.  If you will have your besetting sins, and cannot make up your minds to give them up; if you will shrink from cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye, when occasion requires it, I will engage you will have no assurance.

A vacillating walk, —a backwardness to take a bold and decided line, —a readiness to conform to the world, a hesitating witness for Christ, —a lingering tone of religion,—all these make up a sure receipt for bringing a blight upon the garden of your soul.

It is vain to suppose you will feel assured and persuaded of your own pardon and acceptance with God, unless you count all God’s commandments concerning all things to be right, and hate every sin, whether great or small.  (Psalm 119:128)  One Achan allowed in the camp of your heart will weaken your hands, and lay your consolations low in the dust.  You must be daily sowing to the Spirit, if you are to reap the witness of the Spirit.  You will not find and feel that all the Lord’s ways are ways of pleasantness, unless you labour in all your ways to please the Lord.

I bless God our salvation in no wise depends on our own works.  By grace we are saved, —not by works of righteousness, —through faith, —without the deeds of the law.  But I never would have any believer for a moment forget that our SENSE of salvation depends much on the manner of our living.  Inconsistency will dim your eyes, and bring clouds between you and the sun. The sun is the same behind the clouds, but you will not be able to see its brightness or enjoy its warmth, and your soul will be gloomy and cold.  It is in the path of well doing that the day-spring of assurance will visit you, and shine down upon your heart.

“The secret of the Lord,” says David, “is with them that fear Him, and He will show them His covenant.” (Psalm 25:4)

“To him that ordereth his conversation aright will I show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)

“Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165)

“If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” (1 John 1:7)

“Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.  And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.” (1 John 3:18, 19.)

“Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John ii. 3.)

Paul was a man who exercised himself to have always a conscience void of offence toward God and toward man. (Acts 24:16)  He could say with boldness, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.”  I do not wonder that the Lord enabled him to add with confidence, “Henceforth there is a crown laid up for me, and the Lord shall give it me at that day.”

Reader, if any believer in the Lord Jesus desires assurance, and has not got it, let him think over this point also.  Let him look at his own heart, look at his own conscience, look at his own life, look at his own ways, look at his own home.  And perhaps when he has done that, he will be able to say, “There is a cause why I have no assured hope.”

I leave the three matters I have just mentioned to your own private consideration.  I am sure they are worth examining.  May you examine them honestly.   And may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

1.  And now, in closing this important inquiry, let me speak first to those readers who have not given themselves to the Lord, who have not yet come out from the world, chosen the good part, and followed Christ.

I ask you, then, to learn from this subject the privileges and comforts of a true Christian.

I would not have you judge of the Lord Jesus Christ by His people.  The best of servants can give you but a faint idea of that glorious Master.  Neither would I have you judge of the privileges of His kingdom by the measure of comfort to which many of His people attain.  Alas, we are most of us poor creatures!  We come short, very short, of the blessedness we might enjoy.  But, depend upon it, there are glorious things in the city of our God, which they who have an assured hope taste, even in their life-time.  There are lengths and breadths of peace and consolation there, which it has not entered into your heart to conceive.  There is bread enough and to spare in our Father’s house, though many of us certainly eat but little of it, and continue weak.  But the fault must not be laid to our Master’s charge: it is all our own.

And, after all, the weakest child of God has a mine of comforts within him, of which you know nothing.  You see the conflicts and tossings of the surface of his heart, but you see not the pearls of great price which are hidden in the depths below.  The feeblest member of Christ would not change conditions with you.  The believer who possesses the least assurance is far better off than you are.  He has a hope, however faint, but you have none at all.  He has a portion that will never be taken from him, a Saviour that will never forsake him, a treasure that fadeth not away, however little he may realize it all at present.  But, as for you, if you die as you are, your expectations will all perish.  Oh, that you were wise!  Oh, that you understood these things!  Oh, that you would consider your latter end!

I feel deeply for you in these latter days of the world, if I ever did.  I feel deeply for those whose treasure is all on earth, and whose hopes are all on this side the grave.  Yes: when I see old kingdoms and dynasties shaking to the very foundation, —when I see, as we all saw a few years ago, kings, and princes, and rich men, and great men fleeing for their lives, and scarce knowing where to hide their heads, —when I see property dependent on public confidence melting like snow in spring, and public stocks and funds losing their value, —when I see these things I feel deeply for those who have no better portion than this world can give them, and no place in that kingdom that cannot be removed.

Take advice of a minister of Christ this very day.  Seek durable riches, —a treasure that cannot be taken from you, —a city which hath lasting foundations.  Do as the Apostle Paul did.  Give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and seek that incorruptible crown He is ready to bestow.  Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him.  Come away from a world which will never really satisfy you, and from sin which will bite like a serpent if you cling to it, at last.  Come to the Lord Jesus as lowly sinners, and He will receive you, pardon you, give you His renewing Spirit, fill you with peace.  This shall give you more real comfort than the world has ever done.  There is a gulf in your heart which nothing but the peace of Christ can fill.  Enter in and share our privileges.  Come with us, and sit down by our side.

2. Lastly, let me turn to all believers who read these pages, and speak to them a few words of brotherly counsel.

The main thing that I urge upon you is this, —if you have not got an assured hope of your own acceptance in Christ, resolve this day to seek it. Labour for it.  Strive after it.  Pray for it.  Give the Lord no rest till you “know whom you have believed.”

I feel, indeed, that the small amount of assurance in this day, among those who are reckoned God’s children, is a shame and a reproach.  “It is a thing to be heavily bewailed,” says old Traill, “that many Christians have lived twenty or forty years since Christ called them by His grace, yet doubting in their life.”  Let us call to mind the earnest “desire” Paul expresses, that “every one” of the Hebrews should seek after full assurance and let us endeavour, by God’s blessing, to roll this reproach away.  (Heb. 6:11)

Believing reader, do you really mean to say that you have no desire to exchange hope for confidence, trust for persuasion, uncertainty for knowledge?  Because weak faith will save you, will you therefore rest content with it?  Because assurance is not essential to your entrance into heaven, will you therefore be satisfied without it upon earth?  Alas, this is not a healthy state of soul to be in; this is not the mind of the Apostolic day!  Arise at once, and go forward.  Stick not at the foundations of religion: go on to perfection.  Be not content with a day of small things.  Never despise it in others, but never be content with it yourselves.

Believe me, believe me, assurance is worth the seeking.  You forsake your own mercies when you rest content without it.  The things I speak are for your peace.  If it is good to be sure in earthly things, how much better is it to be sure in heavenly things.  Your salvation is a fixed and certain thing.  God knows it.  Why should not you seek to know it too?  There is nothing unscriptural in this.  Paul never saw the book of life, and yet Paul says, “I know, and am persuaded.”

Make it, then, your daily prayer that you may have an increase of faith.  According to your faith will be your peace.  Cultivate that blessed root more, and sooner or later, by God’s blessing, you may hope to have the flower, You may not, perhaps, attain to full assurance all at once.  It is good sometimes to be kept waiting.  We do not value things which we get without trouble.  But though it tarry, wait for it.  Seek on, and expect to find.

There is one thing, however, of which I would not have you ignorant: —You must not be surprised if you have occasional doubts after you have got assurance.  You must not forget you are on earth, and not yet in heaven.  You are still in the body, and have indwelling sin: the flesh will lust against the spirit to the very end.  The leprosy will never be out of the walls of the old house till death takes it down.  And there is a devil, too, and a strong devil: a devil who tempted the Lord Jesus, and gave Peter a fall; and he will take care you know it.  Some doubts there always will be.  He that never doubts has nothing to lose.  He that never fears possesses nothing truly valuable.  He that is never jealous knows little of deep love.  But be not discouraged: you shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved you.

Finally, do not forget that assurance is a thing that may be lost for a season, even by the brightest Christians, unless they take care.

Assurance is a most delicate plant.  It needs daily, hourly watching, watering, tending, cherishing.  So watch and pray the more when you have got it.  As Rutherford says, “Make much of assurance.”  Be always upon your guard.  When Christian slept, in Pilgrim’s Progress, he lost his certificate.  Keep that in mind.

David lost assurance for many months by falling into transgression.  Peter lost it when he denied his Lord.  Each found it again, undoubtedly, but not till after bitter tears.  Spiritual darkness comes on horseback, and goes away on foot.  It is upon us before we know that it is coming.  It leaves us slowly, gradually, and not till after many days.  It is easy to run down hill.  It is hard work to climb up.  So remember my caution, —when you have the joy of the Lord, watch and pray.

Above all, grieve not the Spirit.  Quench not the Spirit.  Vex not the Spirit.  Drive Him not to a distance, by tampering with small bad habits and little sins.  Little jarrings between husbands and wives make unhappy homes, and petty inconsistencies, known and allowed, will bring in a strangeness between you and the Spirit.

Hear the conclusion of the whole matter.

The man who walks with God in Christ most closely will generally be kept in the greatest peace.

The believer who follows the Lord most fully will ordinarily enjoy the most assured hope, and have the clearest persuasion of his own salvation.

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The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Luke 16:16

Subject: It concerns everyone that would obtain the kingdom of God to be pressing into it.

In these words two things may be observed: First, wherein the work and office of John the Baptist consisted, viz. in preaching the kingdom of God, to prepare the way for its introduction to succeed the law and the prophets. By the law and the prophets, in the text, seems to be intended the ancient dispensation under the Old Testament, which was received from Moses and the prophets. These are said to be until John, not that the revelations given by them are out of use since that time, but that the state of the church, founded and regulated under God by them, the dispensation of which they were the ministers, and wherein the church depended mainly on light received from them, fully continued till John. He first began to introduce the New Testament dispensation, or gospel-state of the church, which, with its glorious, spiritual, and eternal privileges and blessings, is often called the kingdom of heaven, or kingdom of God. John the Baptist preached, that the kingdom of God was at hand, “Repent,” says he, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand:” — “Since that time,” says Christ, “the kingdom of God is preached.” John the Baptist first began to preach it; and then, after him, Christ and his disciples preached the same. Thus Christ preached, Mat. 4:17, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So the disciples were directed to preach, Mat. 10:7, “And, as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It was not John the Baptist, but Christ, that fully brought in, and actually established, this kingdom of God, but he, as Christ’s forerunner to prepare his way before him, did the first thing that was done towards introducing it. The old dispensation was abolished, and the new brought in by degrees, as the night gradually ceases, and gives place to the increasing day which succeeds in its room. First the day star arises, [and] next follows the light of the sun itself, but dimly reflected, in the dawning of the day. But this light increases, and shines more and more, and the stars that serve for light during the foregoing night, gradually go out, and their light ceases, as being now needless, till at length the sun rises, and enlightens the world by his own direct light, which increases as he ascends higher above the horizon, till the day star itself gradually disappears: agreeable to what John says of himself, John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John was the forerunner of Christ, and harbinger of the gospel-day, much as the morning star is the forerunner of the sun. He had the most honorable office of any of the prophets. The other prophets foretold Christ to come, he revealed him as already come, and had the honor to be that servant who should come immediately before him, and actually introduce him, and even to be the instrument concerned in his solemn inauguration, as he was baptizing him. He was the greatest of the prophets that came before Christ, as the morning star is the brightest of all the stars, Mat. 11:11. He came to prepare men’s hearts to receive that kingdom of God which Christ was about more fully to reveal and erect. Luke 1:17, “To make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Secondly, we may observe wherein his success appeared, viz. in that since he began his ministry, every man pressed into that kingdom of God which he preached. The greatness of his success appeared in two things:

1. In the generalness of it, with regard to the subject, or the persons in whom the success appeared: every man. Here is a term of universality, but it is not to be taken as universal with regard to individuals, but kinds, as such universal terms are often used in Scripture. When John preached, there was an extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God that attended his preaching. An uncommon awakening, and concern for salvation, appeared on the minds of all sorts of persons, and even in the most unlikely persons, and those from whom such a thing might least be expected: as the Pharisees, who were exceeding proud, and self-sufficient, and conceited of their own wisdom and righteousness, and looked on themselves fit to be teachers of others, and used to scorn to be taught: and the Sadducees, who were a kind of infidels, that denied any resurrection, angel, or spirit, or any future state. So that John himself seems to be surprised to see them come to him, under such concern for their salvation, as in Mat. 3:7, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” And besides these, the publicans, who were some of the most infamous sort of men, came to him, inquiring what they should do to be saved. And the soldiers, who were doubtless a very profane, loose, and profligate sort of persons, made the same inquiry, Luke 3:12, 14, “Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do?”

2. His success appeared in the manner in which his hearers sought the kingdom of God: they pressed into it. It is elsewhere set forth by their being violent for the kingdom of heaven, and taking it by force. Mat. 11:12, “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

The DOCTRINE that I observe from the words is this. — “It concerns every one that would obtain the kingdom of God, to be pressing into it.” — In discoursing on this subject, I would,

First, show what is that way of seeking salvation that seems to be pointed forth in the expression of pressing into the kingdom of God.

Secondly, give the reasons why it concerns everyone that would obtain the kingdom of God, to seek it in this way. — And then make application.

I. I would show what manner of seeking salvation seems to be denoted by “pressing into the kingdom of God.”

First, this expression denotes strength of desire. Men in general who live under the light of the gospel, and are not atheists, desire the kingdom of God: that is, they desire to go to heaven rather than to hell. Most of them indeed are not much concerned about it, but on the contrary, live a secure and careless life. And some who are many degrees above these, being under some degrees of the awakenings of God’s Spirit, yet are not pressing into the kingdom of God. But they that may be said to be truly so, have strong desires to get out of a natural condition, and to get an interest in Christ. They have such a conviction of the misery of their present state, and of the extreme necessity of obtaining a better, that their minds are as it were possessed with and wrapped up in concern about it. To obtain salvation is desired by them above all things in the world. This concern is so great that it very much shuts out other concerns. They used before to have the stream of their desires after other things, or, it may be, had their concern divided between this and them. But when they come to answer the expression in the text, of pressing into the kingdom of God, this concern prevails above all others. It lays other things low, and does in a manner engross the care of the mind. This seeking eternal life should not only be one concern that our souls are taken up about with other things, but salvation should be sought as the one thing needful, Luke 10:42. And as the one thing that is desired, Psa. 27:4.

Second, pressing into the kingdom of heaven denotes earnestness and firmness of resolution. There should be strength of resolution, accompanying strength of desire, as it was in the psalmist, in the place just now referred to: “one thing have I desired, and that will I seek after.” In order to a thorough engagedness of the mind in this affair, both these must meet together. Besides desiring after salvation, there should be an earnest resolution in persons to pursue this good as much as lies in their power: to do all that in the use of their utmost strength they are able to do, in an attendance on every duty, and resisting and militating against all manner of sin, and to continue in such a pursuit.

There are two things needful in a person, in order to these strong resolutions. There must be a sense of the great importance and necessity of the mercy sought, and there must also be a sense of opportunity to obtain it, or the encouragement there is to seek it. The strength of resolution depends on the sense which God gives to the heart of these things. Persons without such a sense, may seem to themselves to take up resolutions. They may, as it were, force a promise to themselves, and say within themselves, “I will seek as long as I live, I will not give up till I obtain,” when they do but deceive themselves. Their hearts are not in it, neither do they indeed take up any such resolution as they seem to themselves to do. It is the resolution of the mouth more than of the heart. Their hearts are not strongly bent to fulfill what their mouth says. The firmness of resolution lies in the fullness of the disposition of the heart to do what is resolved to be done. Those who are pressing into the kingdom of God, have a disposition of heart to do everything that is required, and that lies in their power to do, and to continue in it. They have not only earnestness, but steadiness of resolution. They do not seek with a wavering unsteady heart, by turns or fits, being off and on, but it is the constant bent of the soul, if possible, to obtain the kingdom of God.

Third, by pressing into the kingdom of God is signified greatness of endeavor. It is expressed in Ecc. 9:10, by doing what our hand finds to do with our might. And this is the natural and necessary consequence of the two aforementioned things. Where there is strength of desire, and firmness of resolution, there will be answerable endeavors. Persons thus engaged in their hearts will “strive to enter in at the strait gate,” and will be violent for heaven. Their practice will be agreeable to the counsel of the wise man, in Pro. 2, at the beginning, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” Here the earnestness of desire and strength of resolution is signified by inclining the ear to wisdom, and applying the heart to understanding. The greatness of endeavor is denoted by crying after knowledge, and lifting up the voice for understanding: seeking her as silver, and searching for her as for hid treasures. Such desires and resolutions, and such endeavors, go together.

Fourth, pressing into the kingdom of God denotes an engagedness and earnestness, that is directly about that business of getting into the kingdom of God. Persons may be in very great exercise and distress of mind, and that about the condition of their souls. Their thoughts and cares may be greatly engaged and taken up about things of a spiritual nature, and yet not be pressing into the kingdom of God, nor towards it. The exercise of their minds is not directly about the work of seeking salvation, in a diligent attendance on the means that God has appointed in order to it, but something else that is beside their business. It may be about God’s decrees and secret purposes, prying into them, searching for signs whereby they may determine, or at least conjecture, what they are before God makes them known by their accomplishment. They distress their minds with fears that they be not elected, or that they have committed the unpardonable sin, or that their day is past, and that God has given them up to judicial and final hardness, and never intends to show them mercy. Therefore, that it is in vain for them to seek salvation. Or they entangle themselves about the doctrine of original sin, and other mysterious doctrines of religion that are above their comprehension. Many persons that seem to be in great distress about a future eternal state, get much into a way of perplexing themselves with such things as these. When it is so, let them be never so much concerned and engaged in their minds, they cannot be said to be pressing towards the kingdom of God, because their exercise is not in their work, but rather that which tends to hinder them in their work. If they are violent, they are only working violently to entangle themselves, and lay blocks in their own way: their pressure is not forwards. Instead of getting along, they do but lose their time, and worse than merely lose it: instead of fighting with the giants that stand in the way to keep them out of Canaan, they spend away their time and strength in conflicting with shadows that appear by the wayside.

Hence we are not to judge of the hopefulness of the way that persons are in, or of the probability of their success in seeking salvation, only by the greatness of the concern and distress that they are in. For many persons have needless distresses that they had much better be without. It is thus very often with persons overrun with the distemper of melancholy, whence the adversary of souls is wont to take great advantage. But then are persons in the most likely way to obtain the kingdom of heaven, when the intent of their minds, and the engagedness of their spirits, is about their proper work and business, and all the bent of their souls is to attend on God’s means, and to do what he commands and directs them to. The apostle tells us, 1 Cor. 9:26, “that he did not fight as those that beat the air.” Our time is short enough. We had not need to spend it in that which is nothing to the purpose. There are real difficulties and enemies enough for persons to encounter, to employ all their strength. They had not need to waste it in fighting with phantoms.

Fifth, by pressing into the kingdom of God is denoted a breaking through opposition and difficulties. There is in the expression a plain intimation of difficulty. If there were no opposition, but the way was all clear and open, there would be no need of pressing to get along. They therefore that are pressing into the kingdom of God, go on with such engagedness, that they break through the difficulties that are in their way. They are so set for salvation, that those things by which others are discouraged, and stopped, and turned back, do not stop them, but they press through them. Persons ought to be so resolved for heaven, that if by any means they can obtain, they will obtain. Whether those means be difficult or easy, cross or agreeable, if they are requisite means of salvation, they should be complied with. When anything is presented to be done, the question should not be — Is it easy or hard? Is it agreeable to my carnal inclinations or interest, or against them? But is it a required means of my obtaining an interest in Jesus Christ, and eternal salvation? Thus the apostle, Phil. 3:11, “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” He tells us there in the context what difficulties he broke through, that he suffered the loss of all things, and was willingly made conformable even to Christ’s death, though that was attended with such extreme torment and ignominy.

He that is pressing into the kingdom of God, commonly finds many things in the way that are against the grain, but he is not stopped by the cross that lies before him, but takes it up and carries it. Suppose there be something incumbent on him to do, that is cross to his natural temper, and irksome to him on that account. Suppose something that he cannot do without suffering in his estate, or that he apprehends will look odd and strange in the eyes of others, and expose him to ridicule and reproach, or anything that will offend a neighbor, and get his ill-will, or something that will be very cross to his own carnal appetite — he will press through such difficulties. Everything that is found to be a weight that hinders him in running this race he casts from him, though it be a weight of gold or pearls. Yea, if it be a right hand or foot that offends him, he will cut them off, and will not stick at plucking out a right eye with his own hands. These things are insuperable difficulties to those who are not thoroughly engaged in seeking their salvation. They are stumbling-blocks that they never get over. But it is not so with him that presses into the kingdom of God. Those things (before he was thoroughly roused from his security) about which he was wont to have long parleyings and disputings with his own conscience — employing carnal reason to invent arguments and pleas of excuse — he now sticks at no longer. He has done with this endless disputing and reasoning, and presses violently through all difficulties. Let what will be in the way, heaven is what he must and will obtain, not if he can without difficulty, but if it be possible. He meets with temptation: the devil is often whispering in his ear, setting allurements before him, magnifying the difficulties of the work he is engaged in, telling him that they are insuperable, and that he can never conquer them, and trying all ways in the world to discourage him, but still he presses forward. God has given and maintains such an earnest spirit for heaven, that the devil cannot stop him in his course. He is not at leisure to lend an ear to what he has to say. — I come now,

II. To show why the kingdom of heaven should be sought in this manner. — It should be thus sought,

First, on account of the extreme necessity we are in of getting into the kingdom of heaven. We are in a perishing necessity of it. Without it we are utterly and eternally lost. Out of the kingdom of God is no safety. There is no other hiding-place. This is the only city of refuge, in which we can be secure from the avenger that pursues all the ungodly. The vengeance of God will pursue, overtake, and eternally destroy, them that are not in this kingdom. All that are without this enclosure will be swallowed up in an overflowing fiery deluge of wrath. They may stand at the door and knock, and cry, Lord, Lord, open to us, in vain; they will be thrust back, and God will have no mercy on them. They shall be eternally left of him. His fearful vengeance will seize them, the devils will lay hold of them, and all evil come upon them, and there will be none to pity or help. Their case will be utterly desperate, and infinitely doleful. It will be a gone case with them. All offers of mercy and expressions of divine goodness will be finally withdrawn, and all hope will be lost. God will have no kind of regard to their well-being [and] will take no care of them to save them from any enemy, or any evil, but himself will be their dreadful enemy, and will execute wrath with fury, and will take vengeance in an inexpressibly dreadful manner. Such as shall be in this case will be lost and undone indeed! They will be sunk down into perdition, infinitely below all that we can think. For who knows the power of God’s anger? And who knows the misery of that poor worm, on whom that anger is executed without mercy?

Second, on account of the shortness and uncertainty of the opportunity for getting into this kingdom. When a few days are past, all our opportunity for it will be gone. Our day is limited. God has set our bounds, and we know not where. While persons are out of this kingdom, they are in danger every hour of being overtaken with wrath. We know not how soon we shall get past that line, beyond which there is no work, device, knowledge, nor wisdom; and therefore we should do what we have to do with our might, Ecc. 9:10.

3. On account of the difficulty of getting into the kingdom of God. There are innumerable difficulties in the way, such as few conquer. Most of them that try have not resolution, courage, earnestness, and constancy enough, but they fail, give up, and perish. The difficulties are too many and too great for them that do not violently press forward. They never get along, but stick by the way, are turned aside or turned back, and ruined. Mat. 7:14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Luke 13:24, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

Fourth, the possibility of obtaining. Though it be attended with so much difficulty, yet it is not a thing impossible. Acts 8:22, “If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” 2 Tim. 2:25, “If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.” However sinful a person is, and whatever his circumstances are, there is, notwithstanding a possibility of his salvation. He himself is capable of it, and God is able to accomplish it, and has mercy sufficient for it. There is sufficient provision made through Christ, that God may do it consistent with the honor of his majesty, justice, and truth. So that there is no want either of sufficiency in God, or capacity in the sinner, in order to this. The greatest and vilest, most blind, dead, hard-hearted sinner living, is a subject capable of saving light and grace. Seeing therefore there is such necessity of obtaining the kingdom of God, and so short a time, and such difficulty, and yet such a possibility, it may well induce us to press into it. Jon. 3:8, 9.

Fifth, it is meet that the kingdom of heaven should be thus sought, because of the great excellency of it. We are willing to seek earthly things, of trifling value, with great diligence, and through much difficulty. It therefore certainly becomes us to seek that with great earnestness which is of infinitely greater worth and excellence. And how well may God expect and require it of us, that we should seek it in such a manner, in order to our obtaining it!

Sixth, such a manner of seeking is needful to prepare persons for the kingdom of God. Such earnestness and thoroughness of endeavors, is the ordinary means that God makes use of to bring persons to an acquaintance with themselves, to a sight of their own hearts, to a sense of their own helplessness, and to a despair in their own strength and righteousness. And such engagedness and constancy in seeking the kingdom of heaven, prepare the soul to receive it the more joyfully and thankfully, and the more highly to prize and value it when obtained. So that it is in mercy to us, as well as for the glory of his own name, that God has appointed such earnest seeking, to be the way in which he will bestow the kingdom of heaven.

APPLICATION

The use I would make of this doctrine, is of exhortation to all Christless persons to press into the kingdom of God. Some of you are inquiring what you shall do? You seem to desire to know what is the way wherein salvation is to be sought, and how you may be likely to obtain it. You have now heard the way that the holy word directs to. Some are seeking, but it cannot be said of them that they are pressing into the kingdom of heaven. There are many that in time past have sought salvation, but not in this manner, and so they never obtained, but are now gone to hell. Some of them sought it year after year, but failed of it, and perished at last. They were overtaken with divine wrath, and are now suffering the fearful misery of damnation, and have no rest day or night, having no more opportunity to seek, but must suffer and be miserable throughout the never-ending ages of eternity. Be exhorted, therefore, not to seek salvation as they did, but let the kingdom of heaven suffer violence from you.

Here I would first answer an objection or two, and then proceed to give some directions how to press into the kingdom of God.

Object. 1. Some may be ready to say, “We cannot do this of ourselves” — that strength of desire, and firmness of resolution, that have been spoken of, are out of our reach. If I endeavor to resolve and to seek with engagedness of spirit, I find I fail. My thoughts are presently off from the business, and I feel myself dull, and my engagedness relaxed, in spite of all I can do.

Ans. 1. Though earnestness of mind be not immediately in your power, yet the consideration of what has been now said of the need of it, may be a means of stirring you up to it. It is true, persons never will be thoroughly engaged in this business, unless it be by God’s influence, but God influences persons by means. Persons are not stirred up to a thorough earnestness without some considerations that move them to it. And if persons can but be made sensible of the necessity of salvation, and also duly consider the exceeding difficulty of it, and the greatness of the opposition, and how short and uncertain the time is, but yet are sensible that they have an opportunity, and that there is a possibility of their obtaining, they will need no more in order to their being thoroughly engaged and resolved in this matter. If we see persons slack and unresolved, and unsteady, it is because they do not enough consider these things.

2. Though strong desires and resolutions of mind be not in your power, yet painfulness of endeavors is in your power. It is in your power to take pains in the use of means, yea very great pains. You can be very painful and diligent in watching your own heart, and striving against sin. Though there is all manner of corruption in the heart continually ready to work, yet you can very laboriously watch and strive against these corruptions, and it is in your power, with great diligence, to attend the matter of your duty towards God and towards your neighbor. It is in your power to attend all ordinances, and all public and private duties of religion, and to do it with your might. It would be a contradiction to suppose that a man cannot do these things with all the might he has, though he cannot do them with more might than he has. The dullness and deadness of the heart, and slothfulness of disposition, do not hinder men being able to take pains, though it hinders their being willing. That is one thing wherein your laboriousness may appear, even striving against your own dullness. That men have a dead and sluggish heart, does not argue that they be not able to take pains. It is so far from that, that it gives occasion for pains. It is one of the difficulties in the way of duty, that persons have to strive with, and that gives occasion for struggling and labor. If there were no difficulties attended seeking salvation, there would be no occasion for striving. A man would have nothing to strive about. There is indeed a great deal of difficulty attending all duties required of those that would obtain heaven. It is an exceeding difficult thing for them to keep their thoughts. It is a difficult thing seriously, or to any good purpose, to consider matters of the greatest importance, [and] it is a difficult thing to hear, or read, or pray attentively. But it does not argue that a man cannot strive in these things because they are difficult. Nay, he could not strive therein if there were not difficulty in them. For what is there excepting difficulties that any can have to strive or struggle with in any affair or business? Earnestness of mind, and diligence of endeavor, tend to promote each other. He that has a heart earnestly engaged, will take pains. He that is diligent and painful in all duty, probably will not be so long before he finds the sensibility of his heart and earnestness of his spirit greatly increased.

Object. 2. Some may object, that if they are earnest, and take a great deal of pains, they shall be in danger of trusting to what they do. They are afraid of doing their duty for fear of making a righteousness of it.

Ans. There is ordinarily no kind of seekers that trust so much to what they do, as slack and dull seekers. Though all seeking salvation, that have never been the subjects of a thorough humiliation, do trust in their own righteousness, yet some do it much more fully than others. Some though they trust in their own righteousness yet are not quiet in it. And those who are most disturbed in their self-confidence (and therefore in the likeliest way to be wholly brought off from it), are not such as go on in a remiss way of seeking, but such as are most earnest and thoroughly engaged: partly because in such a way conscience is kept more sensible. A more awakened conscience will not rest so quietly in moral and religious duties, as one that is less awakened. A dull seeker’s conscience will be in a great measure satisfied and quieted with his own works and performances, but one that is thoroughly awakened cannot be stilled or pacified with such things as these. In this way persons gain much more knowledge of themselves, and acquaintance with their own hearts, than in a negligent, slight way of seeking. For they have a great deal more experience of themselves. It is experience of ourselves, and finding what we are, that God commonly makes use of as the means of bringing us off from all dependence on ourselves. But men never get acquaintance with themselves so fast, as in the most earnest way of seeking. They that are in this way have more to engage them to think of their sins, and strictly to observe themselves, and have much more to do with their own hearts, than others. Such a one has much more experience of his own weakness, than another that does not put forth and try his strength, and will therefore sooner see himself dead in sin. Such a one, though he has a disposition continually to be flying to his own righteousness, yet finds rest in nothing. He wanders about from one thing to another, seeking something to ease his disquieted conscience. He is driven from one refuge to another, goes from mountain to hill, seeking rest and finding none, and therefore will the sooner prove that there is no rest to be found, nor trust to be put, in any creature whatsoever.

It is therefore quite a wrong notion that some entertain, that the more they do, the more they shall depend on it. Whereas the reverse is true: the more they do, or the more thorough they are in seeking, the less will they be likely to rest in their doings, and the sooner will they see the vanity of all that they do. So that persons will exceedingly miss it, if ever they neglect to do any duty either to God or man, whether it be any duty of religion, justice, or charity, under a notion of its exposing them to trust in their own righteousness. It is very true, that it is a common thing for persons, when they earnestly seek salvation, to trust in the pains that they take: but yet commonly those that go on in a more slight way, trust a great deal more securely to their dull services, than he that is pressing into the kingdom of God does to his earnestness. Men’s slackness in religion, and their trust in their own righteousness, strengthen and establish one another. Their trust in what they have done, and what they now do, settles them in a slothful rest and ease, and hinders their being sensible of their need of rousing up themselves and pressing forward. And on the other hand, their negligence tends so to benumb them, and keep them in such ignorance of themselves, that the most miserable refuges are stupidly rested in as sufficient. Therefore we see, that when persons have been going on for a long time in such a way, and God afterwards comes more thoroughly to awaken them, and to stir them up to be in good earnest, he shakes all their old foundations, and rouses them out of their old resting-places, so that they cannot quiet themselves with those things that formerly kept them secure.

I would now proceed to give some directions how you should press into the kingdom of God.

1. Be directed to sacrifice everything to your soul’s eternal interest. Let seeking this be so much your bent, and what you are so resolved in, that you will make everything give place to it. Let nothing stand before your resolution of seeking the kingdom of God. Whatever it be that you used to look upon as a convenience, or comfort, or ease, or thing desirable on any account, if it stands in the way of this great concern, let it be dismissed without hesitation. If it be of that nature that it is likely always to be a hindrance, then wholly have done with it, and never entertain any expectation from it more. If in time past you have, for the sake of worldly gain, involved yourself in more care and business than you find to be consistent with your being so thorough in the business of religion as you ought to be, then get into some other way, though you suffer in your worldly interest by it. Or if you have heretofore been conversant with company that you have reason to think have been and will be a snare to you, and a hindrance to this great design in any wise, break off from their society, however it may expose you to reproach from your old companions, or let what will be the effect of it. Whatever it be that stands in the way of your most advantageously seeking salvation — whether it be some dear sinful pleasure, or strong carnal appetite, or credit and honor, or the goodwill of some persons whose friendship you desire, and whose esteem and liking you have highly valued — and though there be danger, if you do as you ought, that you shall be looked upon by them as odd and ridiculous, and become contemptible in their eyes — or if it be your ease and indolence, and aversion to continual labor, or your outward convenience in any respect, whereby you might avoid difficulties of one kind or other — let all go. Offer up all such things together, as it were, in one sacrifice, to the interest of your soul. Let nothing stand in competition with this, but make everything to fall before it. If the flesh must be crossed, then cross it, spare it not, crucify it, and do not be afraid of being too cruel to it. Gal. 5:24, “They that are Christ’s, have crucified the flesh, with the affections and lusts.” Have no dependence on any worldly enjoyment whatsoever. Let salvation be the one thing with you. This is what is certainly required of you, and this is what many stick at. This giving up other things for salvation, is a stumbling-block that few get over. While others pressed into the kingdom of God at the preaching of John the Baptist, Herod was pretty much stirred up by his preaching. It is said, he heard him, and observed him, and did many things; but when he came to tell him that he must part with his beloved Herodias, here he stuck; this he never would yield to, Mark 6:18-20. The rich young man was considerably concerned for salvation, and accordingly was a very strict liver in many things. But when Christ came to direct him to go and sell all that he had, and give to the poor, and come and follow him, he could not find in his heart to comply with it, but went away sorrowful. He had great possessions, and set his heart much on his estate, and could not bear to part with it. It may be, if Christ had directed him only to give away a considerable part of his estate, he would have done it. Yea, perhaps, if he had bid him part with half of it, he would have complied with it, but when he directed him to throw up all, he could not grapple with such a proposal. Herein the straitness of the gate very much consists, and it is on this account that so many seek to enter in, and are not able. There are many that have a great mind to salvation, and spend part of their time in wishing that they had it, but they will not comply with the necessary means.

2. Be directed to forget the things that are behind. That is, not to keep thinking and making much of what you have done, but let your mind be wholly intent on what you have to do. In some sense you ought to look back: you should look back on your sins. Jer. 2:23, “See thy way in the valley, know what thou hast done.” You should look back on the wretchedness of your religious performances, and consider how you have fallen short in them: how exceedingly polluted all your duties have been, and how justly God might reject and loathe them, and you for them. But you ought not to spend your time in looking back, as many persons do, thinking how much they have done for their salvation: what great pains they have taken, how that they have done what they can, and do not see how they can do more; how long a time they have been seeking, and how much more they have done than others, and even than such and such who have obtained mercy. They think with themselves how hardly God deals with them, that he does not extend mercy to them, but turns a deaf ear to their cries, and hence discourage themselves, and complain of God. Do not thus spend your time in looking on what is past, but look forward, and consider what is before you. Consider what it is that you can do, and what it is necessary that you should do, and what God calls you still to do, in order to your own salvation. The apostle, in the 3rd chapter to the Philippians (Phil. 3:4-14), tells us what things he did while a Jew, how much he had to boast of, if any could boast. But he tells us, that he forgot those things, and all others that were behind, and reached forth towards the things that were before, pressing forwards towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

3. Labor to get your heart thoroughly disposed to go on and hold out to the end. Many that seem to be earnest have not a heart thus disposed. It is a common thing for persons to appear greatly affected for a little while, but all is soon past away, and there is no more to be seen of it. Labor therefore to obtain a thorough willingness and preparation of spirit, to continue seeking, in the use of your utmost endeavors, without limitation; and do not think your whole life too long. And in order to this, be advised to two things.

(1.) Remember that if ever God bestows a mercy upon you, he will use his sovereign pleasure about the time when. He will bestow it on some in a little time, and on others not till they have sought it long. If other persons are soon enlightened and comforted, while you remain long in darkness, there is no other way but for you to wait. God will act arbitrarily in this matter, and you cannot help it. You must even be content to wait, in a way of laborious and earnest striving, till his time comes. If you refuse, you will but undo yourself; and when you shall hereafter find yourself undone, and see that your case is past remedy, how will you condemn yourself for foregoing a great probability of salvation, only because you had not patience to hold out, and were not willing to be at the trouble of a persevering labor! And what will it avail before God or your own conscience to say that you could not bear to be obliged to seek salvation so long, when God bestowed it on others that sought it but for a very short time? Though God may have bestowed the testimonies of his favor on others in a few days or hours after they have begun earnestly to seek it, how does that alter the case as to you, if there proves to be a necessity of your laboriously seeking many years before you obtain them? Is salvation less worth taking a great deal of pains for, because, through the sovereign pleasure of God, others have obtained it with comparatively little pains? If there are two persons, the one of which has obtained converting grace with comparative ease, and another that has obtained it after continuing for many years in the greatest of most earnest labors after it, how little difference does it make at last, when once salvation is obtained! Put all the labor and pains, the long-continued difficulties and strugglings, of the one in the scale against salvation, and how little does it subtract. Put the ease with which the other has obtained in the scale with salvation, and how little does it add! What is either added or subtracted is lighter than vanity, and a thing worthy of no consideration, when compared with that infinite benefit that is obtained. Indeed if you were ten thousand years, and all that time should strive and press forward with as great earnestness as ever a person did for one day, all this would bear no proportion to the importance of the benefit. It will doubtless appear little to you, when once you come to be in actual possession of eternal glory, and to see what that eternal misery is which you have escaped. You must not think much of your pains, and of the length of time. You must press towards the kingdom of God, and do your utmost to hold out to the end, and learn to make no account of it when you have done. You must undertake the business of seeking salvation upon these terms, and with no other expectations than this, that if ever God bestows mercy it will be in his own time, and not only so, but also that when you have done all, God will not hold himself obliged to show you mercy at last.

(2.) Endeavor now thoroughly to weigh in your mind the difficulty, and to count the cost of perseverance in seeking salvation. You that are now setting out in this business (as there are many here who have very lately set about it — Praised be the name of God that he has stirred you up to it!) be exhorted to attend this direction. Do not undertake in this affair with any other thought but of giving yourself wholly to it for the remaining part of your life, and going through many and great difficulties in it. Take heed that you do not engage secretly upon this condition, that you shall obtain in a little time, promising, yourself that it shall be within this present season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, or with any other limitation of time whatsoever. Many, when they begin (seeming to set out very earnestly), do not expect that they shall need to seek very long, and so do not prepare themselves for it. And therefore, when they come to find it otherwise, and meet with unexpected difficulty, they are found unguarded, and easily overthrown. But let me advise you all who are now seeking salvation, not to entertain any self-flattering thoughts, but weigh the utmost difficulties of perseverance, and be provided for them, having your mind fixed in it to go through them, let them be what they will. Consider now beforehand, how tedious it would be, with utmost earnestness and labor, to strive after salvation for many years, in the mean time receiving no joyful or comfortable evidence of your having obtained. Consider what a great temptation to discouragement there probably would be in it; how apt you would be to yield the case; how ready to think that it is in vain for you to seek any longer, and that God never intends to show you mercy, in that he has not yet done it; how apt you would be to think with yourself, “What an uncomfortable life do I live! how much more unpleasantly do I spend my time than others that do not perplex their minds about the things of another world, but are at ease, and take the comfort of their worldly enjoyments!” Consider what a temptation there would probably be in it, if you saw others brought in that began to seek the kingdom of heaven long after you, rejoicing in a hope and sense of God’s favor, after but little pains and a short time of awakening. While you, from day to day, and from year to year, seemed to labor in vain. Prepare for such temptations now. Lay in beforehand for such trials and difficulties, that you may not think any strange thing has happened when they come.

I hope that those who have given attention to what has been said, have by this time conceived, in some measure, what is signified by the expression in the text, and after what manner they ought to press into the kingdom of God. Here is this to induce you to a compliance with what you have been directed to. If you sit still, you die. If you go backward, behold you shall surely die. If you go forward, you may live. And though God has not bound himself to anything that a person does while destitute of faith, and out of Christ, yet there is great probability that in a way of hearkening to this counsel you will live; and that by pressing onward, and persevering, you will at last, as it were by violence, take the kingdom of heaven. Those of you who have not only heard the directions given, but shall through God’s merciful assistance, practice according to them, are those that probably will overcome. These we may well hope at last to see standing with the Lamb on mount Zion, clothed in white robes, with palms in their hands: when all your labor and toil will be abundantly compensated, and you will not repent that you have taken so much pains, and denied yourself so much, and waited so long. This self-denial, this waiting, will then look little, and vanish into nothing in your eyes, being all swallowed up in the first minute’s enjoyment of that glory that you will then possess, and will uninterruptedly possess and enjoy to all eternity.

4th direction. Improve the present season of the pouring out of the Spirit of God on this town. Prudence in any affair whatsoever consists very much in minding and improving our opportunities. If you would have spiritual prosperity, you must exercise prudence in the concerns of your souls, as well as in outward concerns when you seek outward prosperity. The prudent husbandman will observe his opportunities. He will improve seed-time and harvest. He will make his advantage of the showers and shines of heaven. The prudent merchant will discern his opportunities; he will not be idle on a market-day. He is careful not to let slip his seasons for enriching himself: So will those who prudently seek the fruits of righteousness, and the merchandise of wisdom, improve their opportunities for their eternal wealth and happiness.

God is pleased at this time, in a very remarkable manner, to pour out his Spirit amongst us (glory be to his name!). You that have a mind to obtain converting grace, and to go to heaven when you die, now is your season! Now, if you have any sort of prudence for your own salvation, and have not a mind to go to hell, improve this season! Now is the accepted time! Now is the day of salvation! You that in time past have been called upon, and have turned a deaf ear to God’s voice, and long stood out and resisted his commands and counsels, hear God’s voice today, while it is called today! Do not harden your hearts at such a day as this! Now you have a special and remarkable price put into your hands to get wisdom, if you have but a heart to improve it.

God has his certain days or appointed seasons of exercising both mercy and judgment. There are some remarkable times of wrath, laid out by God for his awful visitation, and the executions of his anger, which times are called days of vengeance, Pro. 6:34. Wherein God will visit for sin, Exo. 32:34. And so, on the contrary, God has laid out in his sovereign counsels seasons of remarkable mercy, wherein he will manifest himself in the exercises of his grace and loving-kindness, more than at other times. Such times in Scripture are called by way of eminency, accepted times, and days of salvation, and also days of God’s visitation, because they are days wherein God will visit in a way of mercy, as Luke 19:44, “And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children with thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” It is such a time now in this town; it is with us a day of God’s gracious visitation. It is indeed a day of grace with us as long as we live in this world, in the enjoyment of the means of grace. But such a time as this is especially, and in a distinguishing manner, a day of grace. There is a door of mercy always standing open for sinners, but at such a day as this, God opens an extraordinary door.

We are directed to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near, Isa. 55:6. If you that are hitherto Christless, be not strangely besotted and infatuated, you will by all means improve such an opportunity as this to get heaven, when heaven is brought so near, when the fountain is opened in the midst of us in so extraordinary a manner. Now is the time to obtain a supply of the necessities of your poor perishing souls! This is the way for sinners that have a mind to be converted before they die, when God is dealing forth so liberally and bountifully amongst us, [and] when conversion and salvation work is going on amongst us from sabbath to sabbath, and many are pressing into the kingdom of God! Now do not stay behind, but press in amongst the rest! Others have been stirred up to be in good earnest, and have taken heaven by violence. Be entreated to follow their example, if you would have a part of the inheritance with them, and would not be left at the great day, when they are taken!

How should it move you to consider that you have this opportunity now in your hands! You are in the actual possession of it! If it were past, it would not be in your power to recover it, or in the power of any creature to bring it back for you. But it is not past, it is now, at this day. Now is the accepted time, even while it is called today! Will you sit still at such a time? Will you sleep in such a harvest? Will you deal with a slack hand, and stay behind out of mere sloth, or love to some lust, or lothness to grapple with some small difficulty, or to put yourself a little out of your way, when so many are flowing to the goodness of the Lord? You are behind still, and so you will be in danger of being left behind, when the whole number is completed that are to enter in, if you do not earnestly bestir yourself! To be left behind at the close of such a season as this, will be awful — next to being left behind on that day when God’s saints shall mount up as with wings to meet the Lord in the air — and will be what will appear very threatening of it.

God is now calling you in an extraordinary manner, and it is agreeable to the will and Word of Christ, that I should now, in his name, call you, as one set over you, and sent to you to that end. So it is his will that you should hearken to what I say, as his voice. I therefore beseech you in Christ’s stead now to press into the kingdom of God! Whoever you are, whether young or old, small or great. If you are a great sinner, if you have been a backslider, if you have quenched the Spirit, be who you will, do not stand making objections, but arise, apply yourself to your work! Do what you have to do with your might. Christ is calling you before, and holding forth his grace, and everlasting benefits, and wrath is pursuing you behind. Wherefore fly for your life, and look not behind you!

But here I would particularly direct myself to several sorts of persons.

I. To those sinners who are in a measure awakened, and are concerned for their salvation. You have reason to be glad that you have such an opportunity, and to prize it above gold. To induce you to prize and improve it, consider several things.

1. God has doubtless a design now to deal forth saving blessings to a number. God has done it to some already, and it is not probable that he has yet finished his work amongst us. We may well hope still to see others brought out of darkness into marvelous light. And therefore,

2. God comes this day, and knocks at many persons’ doors, and at your door among the rest. God seems to be come in a very unusual manner amongst us, upon a gracious and merciful design: a design of saving a number of poor miserable souls out of a lost and perishing condition, and of bringing them into a happy state and eternal glory! This is offered to you, not only as it has always been in the Word and ordinances, but by the particular influences of the Spirit of Christ awakening you! This special offer is made to many amongst us, and you are not passed over. Christ has not forgot you, but has come to your door, and there as it were stands waiting for you to open to him. If you have wisdom and discretion to discern your own advantage, you will know that now is your opportunity.

3. How much more easily converting grace is obtained at such a time, than at other times! The work is equally easy with God at all times, but there is far less difficulty in the way as to men at such a time, than at other times. It is, as I said before, a day of God’s gracious visitation, a day that he has as it were set apart for the more liberally and bountifully dispensing of his grace, [and] a day wherein God’s hand is opened wide. Experience shows it. God seems to be more ready to help, to give proper convictions, to help against temptations, and let in divine light. He seems to carry on his work with a more glorious discovery of his power, and Satan is more chained up than at other times. Those difficulties and temptations that persons before stuck at, from year to year, they are soon helped over. The work of God is carried on with greater speed and swiftness, and there are often instances of sudden conversion at such a time. So it was in the apostles’ days, when there was a time of the most extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit that ever was. How quick and sudden were conversions in those days! Such instances as that of the jailer abounded then, in fulfillment of that prophecy, Isa. 66:7, 8, “Before she travailed, she brought forth: before her pain came, she was delivered of a man-child. Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” So it is in some degree, whenever there is an extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God, more or less so, in proportion to the greatness of that effusion. There is seldom such quick work made of it at other times. Persons are not so soon delivered from their various temptations and entanglements, but are much longer wandering in a wilderness, and groping in darkness. And yet,

4. There are probably some here present that are now concerned about their salvation, that never will obtain. It is not to be supposed that all that are now moved and awakened will ever be savingly converted. Doubtless there are many now seeking that will not be able to enter. When has it been so in times past, when there has been times of great outpourings of God’s Spirit, but that many who for a while have inquired with others what they should do to be saved, have failed, and afterwards grown hard and secure? All of you that are now awakened have a mind to obtain salvation, and probably hope to get a title to heaven, in the time of this present moving of God’s Spirit: but yet (though it be awful to be spoken, and awful to be thought), we have no reason to think any other, than that some of you will burn in hell to all eternity. You all are afraid of hell, and seem at present disposed to take pains to be delivered from it. Yet it would be unreasonable to think any other, than that some of you will have your portion in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Though there are so many that seem to obtain so easily, having been but a little while under convictions, yet, for all that, some never will obtain. Some will soon lose the sense of things they now have. Though their awakenings seem to be very considerable for the present, they will not hold. They have not hearts disposed to hold on through very many difficulties. Some that have set out for heaven, and hope as much as others to obtain, are indeed but slighty and slack, even now, in the midst of such a time as this. And others, who for the present seem to be more in earnest, will probably, before long, decline and fail, and gradually return to be as they were before. The convictions of some seem to be great, while that which is the occasion of their convictions is new, which, when that begins to grow old, will gradually decay and wear off. Thus, it may be, the occasion of your awakening has been the hearing of the conversion of some person, or seeing so extraordinary a dispensation of Providence as this in which God now appears amongst us. But by and by the newness and freshness of these things will be gone, and so will not affect your mind as now they do, and it may be your convictions will go away with it.

Though this be a time wherein God does more liberally bestow his grace, and so a time of greater advantage for obtaining it, yet there seems to be, upon some accounts, greater danger of backsliding, than when persons are awakened at other times. For commonly such extraordinary times do not last long, and then when they cease, there are multitudes that lose their convictions as it were together.

We speak of it as a happy thing, that God is pleased to cause such a time amongst us, and so it is indeed. But there are some to whom it will be no benefit. It will be an occasion of their greater misery, [and] they will wish they had never seen this time. It will be more tolerable for those that never saw it, or anything like it, in the day of judgment, than for them. It is an awful consideration, that there are probably those here, whom the great Judge will hereafter call to a strict account about this very thing, why they no better improved this opportunity, when he set open the fountain of his grace, and so loudly called upon them, and came and strove with them in particular, by the awakening influences of his Spirit. They will have no good account to give to the Judge, but their mouths will be stopped, and they will stand speechless before him.

You had need therefore to be earnest, and very resolved in this affair, that you may not be one of those who shall thus fail, that you may so fight, as not uncertainly, and so run, as that you may win the prize.

5. Consider in what sad circumstances times of extraordinary effusion of God’s Spirit commonly leave persons, when they leave them unconverted. They find them in a doleful, because in a natural, condition; but commonly leave them in a much more doleful condition. They are left dreadfully hardened, and with a great increase of guilt, and their souls under a more strong dominion and possession of Satan. And frequently seasons of extraordinary advantage for salvation, when they pass over persons, and they do not improve them, nor receive any good in them, seal their damnation. As such seasons leave them, God forever leaves them, and gives them up to judicial hardness. Luke 19:41, 42, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.”

6. Consider, that it is very uncertain whether you will ever see such another time as this. If there should be such another time, it is very uncertain whether you will live to see it. Many that are now concerned for their salvation amongst us, will probably be in their graves, and it may be in hell, before that time. If you should miss this opportunity, it may be so with you. And what good will that do you, to have the Spirit of God poured out upon earth, in the place where you once lived, while you are tormented in hell? What will it avail you, that others are crying, “What shall I do to be saved?” — while you are shut up forever in the bottomless pit, and are wailing and gnashing your teeth in everlasting burnings?

Wherefore improve this opportunity, while God is pouring out his Spirit, and you are on earth, and while you dwell in that place where the Spirit of God is thus poured out, and you yourself have the awakening influences of it, that you may never wail and gnash your teeth in hell, but may sing in heaven forever, with others that are redeemed from amongst men, and redeemed amongst us.

7. If you should see another such time, it will be under far greater disadvantages than now. You will probably then be much older, and will have more hardened your heart; and so will be under less probability of receiving good. Some persons are so hardened in sin, and so left of God, that they can live through such a time as this, and not be much awakened or affected by it They can stand their ground, and be but little moved. And so it may be with you, by another such time, if there should be another amongst us, and you should live to see it. The case in all probability will be greatly altered with you by that time. If you should continue Christless and graceless till then, you will be much further from the kingdom of God, and much deeper involved in snares and misery, and the devil will probably have a vastly greater advantage against you, to tempt and confound you.

8. We do not know but that God is now gathering in his elect, before some great and sore judgment. It has been God’s manner before he casts off a visible people, or brings some great and destroying judgments upon them, first to gather in his elect, that they may be secure. So it was before the casting off the Jews from being God’s people. There was first a very remarkable pouring out of the Spirit and gathering in of the elect, by the preaching of the apostles and evangelists, as we read in the beginning of the Acts. But after this harvest and its gleanings were over, the rest were blinded, and hardened; the gospel had little success amongst them, and the nation was given up, and cast off from being God’s people, and their city and land was destroyed by the Romans in a terrible manner; and they have been cast off by God now for a great many ages, and still remain a hardened and rejected people. So we read in the beginning of the 7th chapter of the Revelations, that God, when about to bring destroying judgments on the earth, first sealed his servants in the forehead. He set his seal upon the hearts of the elect, gave them the saving influences and indwelling of his Spirit, by which they were sealed to the day of redemption. Rev. 7:1-3, “And after these things, I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.”

And this may be the case now, that God is about, in a great measure, to forsake this land, and give up this people, and to bring most awful and overwhelming judgments upon it, and that he is now gathering in his elect, to secure them from the calamity. The state of the nation, and of this land, never looked so threatening of such a thing as at this day. The present aspect of things exceedingly threatens vital religion, and even those truths that are especially the foundation of it, out of this land. If it should be so, how awful will the case be with those that shall be left, and not brought in, while God continues the influences of his Spirit, to gather in those that are to be redeemed from amongst us?

9. If you neglect the present opportunity, and be finally unbelieving, those that are converted in this time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit will rise up in judgment against you. Your neighbors, your relations, acquaintance, or companions that are converted, will that day appear against you. They will not only be taken while you are left, mounting up with joy to meet the Lord in the air — at his right hand with glorious saints and angels, while you are at the left with devils — but how they will rise up in judgment against you. However friendly you have been together, and have taken pleasure in one another’s company, and have often familiarly conversed together, they will then surely appear against you. They will rise up as witnesses, and will declare what a precious opportunity you had, and did not improve; how you continued unbelieving, and rejected the offers of a Savior, when those offers were made in so extraordinary a manner, and when so many others were prevailed upon to accept of Christ; how you was negligent and slack, and did not know the things that belonged to your peace, in that your day. And not only so, but they shall be your judges, as assessors with the great Judge; and as such will appear against you. They will be with the Judge in passing sentence upon you. 1 Cor. 6:2, “Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?” Christ will admit them to the honor of judging the world with him: “They shall sit with Christ in his throne,” Rev. 3:21. They shall sit with Christ in his throne of government, and they shall sit with him in his throne of judgment, and shall be judges with him when you are judged, and as such shall condemn you.

10. And lastly, you do not know that you shall live through the present time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit. You may be taken away in the midst of it, or you may be taken away in the beginning of it, as God in his providence is putting you in mind, by the late instance of death in a young person in the town. God has of late been very awful in his dealings with us, in the repeated deaths of young persons amongst us. This should stir everyone up to be in the more haste to press into the kingdom of God, that so you may be safe whenever death comes. This is a blessed season and opportunity, but you do not know how little of it you may have. You may have much less of it than others. [You] may by death be suddenly snatched away from all advantages that are here enjoyed for the good of souls. Therefore make haste, and escape for thy life. One moment’s delay is dangerous; for wrath is pursuing, and divine vengeance hanging over every uncovered person.

Let these considerations move everyone to be improving this opportunity, that while others receive saving good, and are made heirs of eternal glory, you may not be left behind, in the same miserable doleful circumstances in which you came into the world, a poor captive to sin and Satan, a lost sheep, a perishing, undone creature, sinking down into everlasting perdition; that you may not be one of them spoken of, Jer. 17:6, “That shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good comes.” If you do not improve this opportunity, remember I have told you, you will hereafter lament it, and if you do not lament it in this world, then I will leave it with you to remember it throughout a miserable eternity.

II. I would address myself to such as yet remain unawakened. It is an awful thing that there should be any one person remaining secure amongst us at such a time as this, but yet it is to be feared that there are some of this sort. I would here a little expostulate with such persons.

1. When do you expect that it will be more likely that you should be awakened and wrought upon than now? You are in a Christless condition, and yet without doubt intend to go to heaven, and therefore intend to be converted some time before you die. But this is not to be expected till you are first awakened, and deeply concerned about the welfare of your soul, and brought earnestly to seek God’s converting grace. And when do you intend that this shall be? How do you lay things out in your own mind, or what projection have you about this matter? Is it ever so likely that a person will be awakened, as at such a time as this? How do we see many, who before were secure, now roused out of their sleep, and crying, “What shall I do to be saved?” But you are yet secure! Do you flatter yourself that it will be more likely you should be awakened when it is a dull and dead time? Do you lay matters out thus in your own mind, that though you are senseless when others are generally awakened, that yet you shall be awakened when others are generally senseless? Or do you hope to see another such time of the pouring out of God’s Spirit hereafter? And do you think it will be more likely that you should be wrought upon then, than now? And why do you think so? Is it because then you shall be so much older than you are now, and so that your heart will be grown softer and more tender with age? or because you will then have stood out so much longer against the calls of the gospel, and all means of grace? Do you think it more likely that God will give you the needed influences of his Spirit then, than now, because then you will have provoked him so much more, and your sin and guilt will be so much greater? And do you think it will be any benefit to you, to stand it out through the present season of grace, as proof against the extraordinary means of awakening there are? Do you think that this will be a good preparation for a saving work of the Spirit hereafter?

2. What means do you expect to be awakened by? As to the awakening awful things of the Word of God, you have had those set before you times without number, in the most moving manner that the dispensers of the Word have been capable of. As to particular solemn warnings, directed to those that are in your circumstances, you have had them frequently, and have them now from time to time. Do you expect to be awakened by awful providences? Those also you have lately had, of the most awakening nature, one after another. Do you expect to be moved by the deaths of others? We have lately had repeated instances of these. There have been deaths of old and young: the year has been remarkable for the deaths of young persons in the bloom of life, and some of them very sudden deaths. Will the conversion of others move you? There is indeed scarce anything that is found to have so great a tendency to stir persons up as this, and this you have been tried with of late in frequent instances, but are hitherto proof against it. Will a general pouring out of the Spirit, and seeing a concern about salvation amongst all sorts of people, do it? This means you now have, but without effect. Yea, you have all these things together. You have the solemn warnings of God’s Word, and awful instances of death, and the conversion of others, and see a general concern about salvation. But all together do not move you to any great concern about your own precious, immortal, and miserable soul. Therefore consider by what means it is that you expect ever to be awakened.

You have heard that it is probable some who are now awakened, will never obtain salvation. How dark then does it look upon you that remain stupidly unawakened! Those who are not moved at such a time as this, come to adult age, have reason to fear whether they are not given up to judicial hardness. I do not say they have reason to conclude it, but they have reason to fear it. How dark does it look upon you, that God comes and knocks at so many persons’ doors, and misses yours! That God is giving the strivings of his Spirit so generally amongst us, while you are left senseless!

3. Do you expect to obtain salvation without ever seeking it? If you are sensible that there is a necessity of your seeking in order to obtaining, and ever intend to seek, one would think you could not avoid it at such a time as this. Inquire therefore, whether you intend to go to heaven, living all your days a secure, negligent, careless life. — Or,

4. Do you think you can bear the damnation of hell? Do you imagine that you can tolerably endure the devouring fire, and everlasting burnings? Do you hope that you shall be able to grapple with the vengeance of God Almighty, when he girds himself with strength, and clothes himself with wrath? Do you think to strengthen yourself against God, and to be able to make your part good with him? 1 Cor. 10:22, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” Do you flatter yourself that you shall find out ways for your ease and support, and to make it out tolerably well, to bear up your spirit in those everlasting burnings that are prepared for the devil and his angels? Eze. 22:14, “Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?” — It is a difficult thing to conceive what such Christless persons think, that are unconcerned at such a time.

III. I would direct myself to them who are grown considerably into years, and are yet in a natural condition. I would now take occasion earnestly to exhort you to improve this extraordinary opportunity, and press into the kingdom of God. You have lost many advantages that once you had, and now have not the same advantages that others have. The case is very different with you from what it is with many of your neighbors. You, above all, had need to improve such an opportunity. Now is the time for you to bestir yourself, and take the kingdom of heaven! — Consider,

1. Now there seems to be a door opened for old sinners. Now God is dealing forth freely to all sorts: his hand is opened wide, and he does not pass by old ones so much as he used to do. You are not under such advantages as others who are younger, but yet, so wonderfully has God ordered it, that now you are not destitute of great advantage. Though old in sin, God has put a new and extraordinary advantage into your hands. O! improve this price you have to get wisdom! You that have been long seeking to enter in at the strait gate and yet remain without, now take your opportunity and press in! You that have been long in the wilderness, fighting with various temptations, laboring under discouragements, ready to give up the case, and have been often tempted to despair, now, behold the door that God opens for you! Do not give way to discouragements now. This is not a time for it. Do not spend time in thinking that you have done what you can already, and that you are not elected, and in giving way to other perplexing, weakening, disheartening temptations. Do not waste away this precious opportunity in such a manner. You have no time to spare for such things as these. God calls you now to something else. Improve this time in seeking and striving for salvation, and not in that which tends to hinder it. — It is no time now for you to stand talking with the devil, but hearken to God, and apply yourself to that which he does now so loudly call you to.

Some of you have often lamented the loss of past opportunities, particularly the loss of the time of youth, and have been wishing that you had so good an opportunity again, and have been ready to say, “O! if I was young again, how would I improve such an advantage!” That opportunity which you have had in time past is irrecoverable. You can never have it again. But God can give you other advantages of another sort, that are very great, and he is so doing at this day. He is now putting a new opportunity into your hands, though not of the same kind with that which you once had, and have lost, yet in some respects as great of another kind. If you lament your folly in neglecting and losing past opportunities, then do not be guilty of the folly of neglecting the opportunity which God now gives you. This opportunity you could not have purchased, if you would have given all that you had in the world for it. But God is putting it into your hands himself, of his own free and sovereign mercy, without your purchasing it. Therefore when you have it, do not neglect it.

2. It is a great deal more likely with respect to such persons than others, that this is their last time. There will be a last time of special offer of salvation to impenitent sinners. — “God’s Spirit shall not always strive with man,” Gen. 6:3. God sometimes continues long knocking at the doors of wicked men’s hearts, but there are the last knocks, and the last calls that ever they shall have. And sometimes God’s last calls are the loudest, and then if sinners do not hearken, he finally leaves them. How long has God been knocking at many of your doors that are old in sin! It is a great deal more likely that these are his last knocks. You have resisted God’s Spirit in times past, and have hardened your heart once and again. But God will not be thus dealt with always. There is danger, that if now, after so long a time, you will not hearken, he will utterly desert you, and leave you to walk in your own counsels.

It seems by God’s providence, as though God had yet an elect number amongst old sinners in this place, that perhaps he is now about to bring in. It looks as though there were some that long lived under Mr. Stoddard’s ministry, that God has not utterly cast off, though they stood it out under such great means as they then enjoyed. It is to be hoped that God will now bring in a remnant from among them. But it is the more likely that God is now about finishing with them, one way or other, for their having been so long the subjects of such extraordinary means. You have seen former times of the pouring out of God’s Spirit upon the town, when others were taken and you left, others were called out of darkness into marvelous light, and were brought into a glorious and happy state, and you saw not good when good came. How dark will your circumstances appear, if you shall also stand it out through this opportunity, and still be left behind! Take heed that you be not of those spoken of, Heb. 6:7, 8. that are like the “earth that has rain coming oft upon it, and only bears briers and thorns.” As we see there are some pieces of ground, the more showers of rain fall upon them, the more fruitful seasons there are, the more do the briers, and other useless and hurtful plants, that are rooted in them, grow and flourish. Of such ground the apostle says, “It is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.” The way that the husbandman takes with such ground, is to set fire to it, to burn up the growth of it. — If you miss this opportunity, there is danger that you will be utterly rejected, and that your end will be to be burned. And if this is to be, it is to be feared, that you are not far from, but nigh unto, cursing.

Those of you that are already grown old in sin, and are now under awakenings, when you feel your convictions begin to go off, if ever that should be, then remember what you have now been told; it may well then strike you to the heart!

IV. I would direct the advice to those that are young, and now under their first special convictions. I would earnestly urge such to improve this opportunity, and press into the kingdom of God. — Consider two things,

1. You have all manner of advantages now centering upon you. It is a time of great advantage for all, but your advantages are above others. There is no other sort of persons that have now so great and happy an opportunity as you have. — You have the great advantage that is common to all who live in this place, viz. That now it is a time of the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God. And have you not that great advantage, the awakening influences of the Spirit of God on you in particular? and besides, you have this peculiar advantage, that you are now in your youth. And added to this, you have another unspeakable advantage, that you are now under your first convictions. Happy is he that never has hardened his heart, and blocked up his own way to heaven by backsliding, and has now the awakening influences of God’s Spirit, if God does but enable him thoroughly to improve them! Such above all in the world bid fair for the kingdom of God. God is wont on such, above any kind of persons, as it were easily and readily to bestow the saving grace and comforts of his Spirit. Instances of speedy and sudden conversion are most commonly found among such. Happy are they that have the Spirit of God with them, and never have quenched it, if they did but know the price they have in their hands!

If you have a sense of your necessity of salvation, and the great worth and value of it, you will be willing to take the surest way to it, or that which has the greatest probability of success, and that certainly is, thoroughly to improve your first convictions. If you do so, it is not likely that you will fail. There is the greatest probability that you will succeed. — What is it not worth, to have such an advantage in one’s hands for obtaining eternal life? The present season of the pouring out of God’s Spirit, is the first that many of you who are now under awakenings have ever seen, since you came to years of understanding. On which account, it is the greatest opportunity that ever you have had, and probably by far the greatest that ever you will have. There are many here present who wish they had such an opportunity, but they never can obtain it. They cannot buy it for money, but you have it in your possession, and can improve it if you will. But yet,

2. There is on some accounts greater danger that such as are in your circumstances will fail of thoroughly improving their convictions, with respect to stedfastness and perseverance, than others. Those that are young are more unstable than elder persons. They who never had convictions before, have less experience of the difficulty of the work they have engaged in. They are more ready to think that they shall obtain salvation easily, and are more easily discouraged by disappointments, and young persons have less reason and consideration to fortify them against temptations to backsliding. You should therefore labor now the more to guard against such temptations. By all means make but one work of seeking salvation! Make thorough work of it the first time! There are vast disadvantages that they bring themselves under, who have several turns of seeking with great intermissions. By such a course, persons exceedingly wound their own souls, and entangle themselves in many snares. Who are those that commonly meet with so many difficulties, and are so long laboring in darkness and perplexity, but those who have had several turns at seeking salvation: [those] who have one while had convictions, and then have quenched them, and then have set about the work again, and have backslidden again, and have gone on after that manner? The children of Israel would not have been forty years in the wilderness, if they had held their courage, and had gone on as they set out. But they were of an unstable mind, and were for going back again into Egypt. — Otherwise, if they had gone right forward without discouragement, as God would have led them, they would have soon entered and taken possession of Canaan. They had got to the very borders of it when they turned back, but were thirty-eight years after that, before they got through the wilderness. Therefore, as you regard the interest of your soul, do not run yourself into a like difficulty, by unsteadiness, intermission, and backsliding. But press right forward, from henceforth, and make but one work of seeking, converting, and pardoning grace, however great, and difficult, and long a work that may be.

Dated February 1735. Preached at Northampton during the Awakenings of 1734-1735.

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O thou that hearest prayer – Psalm 65:2

This psalm seems to be written, either as a psalm of praise to God for some remarkable answer of prayer, in the bestowment of some public mercy; or else on occasion of some special faith and confidence which David had that his prayer would be answered.  It is probable that this mercy bestowed, or expected to be bestowed, was some great public mercy, for which David had been very earnest and importunate, and had annexed a vow to his prayer; and that he had vowed to God, that if he would grant him his request he would render him praise and glory. — This seems to be the reason why he expresses himself as he does in the first verse of the psalm: “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed,” i.e. that praise which I have vowed to give thee on the answer of my prayer, waiteth for thee, to be given thee as soon as thou shalt have answered my prayer; and the vow which I made to thee shall be performed.  In the verse of the text, there is a prophecy of the glorious times of the gospel, when “all flesh shall come” to the true God, as to the God who heareth prayer, which is here mentioned as what distinguishes the true God from the gods to whom the nations prayed and sought, those gods, who cannot hear, and cannot answer their prayer.  The time was coming when all flesh should come to that God who doth hear prayer. — Hence we gather this doctrine that it is the character of the Most High, that he is a God who hears prayers.  I shall handle this point in the following method:

1. Show that the Most High is a God that hears prayer.

2. That he is emintently such a God.

3. That herein he is distingished from all false gods.

4. Give the reasons of the doctrine.

I. The Most High is a God that hears prayer.

Though he is infinitely above all, and stands in no need of creatures, yet he is graciously pleased to take a merciful notice of poor worms of the dust.  He manifests and presents himself as the object of prayer, appears as sitting on a mercy-seat, that men may come to him by prayer.  When they stand in need of any thing, he allows them to come, and ask it of him; and he is wont to hear their prayers.  God in his word hath given many promises that he will hear their prayers; the Scripture is full of such examples; and in his dispensations towards his church, manifests himself to be a God that hears prayer.

Here it may be inquired, What is meant by God’s hearing prayer?  There are two things implied in it.

1. His accepting the supplications of those who pray to him.  Their address to him is well taken; he is well pleased with it.  He approves of their asking such mercies as they request of him, and approves of their manner of doing it.  He accepts of their prayers as an offering to him: he accepts the honor they do him in prayer.

2. He acts agreeably to his acceptance.  He sometimes manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by special discoveries of his mercy and sufficiency, which he makes to them in prayer, or immediately after.  While they are praying, he gives them sweet views of his glorious grace, purity, sufficiency, and sovereignty, and enables them with great quietness, to rest in him, to leave themselves and their prayers with him, submitting to his will, and trusting in his grace and faithfulness.  Such a manifestation God seems to have made of himself in prayer to Hannah, which quieted and composed her mind, and tool; away her sadness. We read (in 1 Samuel 1) how earnest she was, and how exercised in her mind, and that she was I woman of a sorrowful spirit.  First, she came and poured out her soul before God, and spake out of the abundance of her complaint and grief, then we read, that she went away, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad (verse 13) which seems to have been from some refreshing discoveries which God had made of himself to her, to enable her quietly to submit to his will, and trust in his mercy whereby God manifested his acceptance of her. — Not that I conclude persons can hence argue, that the particular thing which they ask will certainly be given them, or that they can particularly foretell from it what God will do in answer to their prayers, any further than he has promised in his word; yet God may, and doubtless does, thus testify his acceptance of their prayers, and from hence they may confidently rest in his providence, in his merciful ordering and disposing, with respect to the thing which they ask. — Again, God manifests his acceptance of their prayers, by doing for them agreeably to their needs and supplications.  He not only inwardly and spiritually discovers his mercy to their, souls by his Spirit, but outwardly by dealing mercifully with them in his providence, in consequence of their prayers, and by causing an agreeableness between his providence and their prayers.

II. To show that the Most High is eminently a God that hears prayer.

This appears in several things.

1. In his giving such free access to him by prayer.

God in his word manifests himself ready at all times to allow us this privilege.  He sits on a throne of grace, and there is no veil to hide this throne, and keep us from it.  The veil is rent from the top to the bottom; the way is open at all times, and we may go to God as often as we please.  Although God be infinitely above us, yet we may come with boldness: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14, 16).  How wonderful is it that such worms as we should be allowed to come boldly at all times to so great a God! — Thus God indulges all kinds of persons, of all nations.  “Unto all that in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours; grace he unto you” (1 Corinthians 1:2,3).  Yea, God allows the most vile and unworthy; the greatest sinners are allowed to come through Christ.

And he not only allows, but encourages, and frequently invites them; yea, manifests himself as delighting in being sought to by prayer: “The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Proverbs 15:8).  And in the Song of Solomon, we have Christ saying to the spouse, “O my dove, let me hear thy voice; for so sweet is thy voice.”  The voice of the saints in prayer is sweet unto Christ; he delights to hear it.  He allows them to be earnest and importunate; yea, to the degree as to take no denial, and as it were to give him no rest, and even encouraging them so to do: “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give him no rest” (Isaiah 62:6, 7).  Thus Christ encourages us, in the parable of the importunate widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18).  Also, in the parable of the man who went to his friend at midnight (Luke 11:5).

Thus God allowed Jacob to wrestle with him, yea, to be resolute in it; “I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.”  It is noticed with approbation, when men are violent for the kingdom of heaven, and take it by force.  Thus Christ suffered the blind man to be most importunate and unceasing in his cries to him (Luke 18:38, 39).  He continued crying, “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Others who were present rebuked him, that he should hold his peace, looking upon it as too great a boldness, and an indecent behavior towards Christ, thus to cry after him as he passed by.  But Christ did not rebuke him, but stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him, saying, “What wilt thou that I should do to thee?”  And when the blind man had told him, Christ graciously granted his request.

The freedom of access that God gives, appears also in allowing us to come to him by prayer for every thing we need, both temporal and spiritual; whatever evil we need to be delivered from, or good eye would obtain: “Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

2. That God is eminently of this character, appears in his hearing prayer so readily.

He often manifests his readiness to hear prayer, by giving an answer so speedily, sometimes while they are yet speaking, and sometimes before they pray, when they only have a design of praying.  So ready is God to hear prayer, that he takes notice of the first purpose of praying, and sometimes bestows mercy thereupon: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).  We read, that when Daniel was making humble and earnest supplication, God sent an angel to comfort him, and to assure him of an answer (Daniel 9:20-24).  When God defers for the present to answer the prayer of faith, it is not from any backwardness to answer, but for the good of his people sometimes, that they may be better prepared for the mercy before they receive it, or because another time would be the best and fittest on some other account: and even then, when God seems to delay an answer, the answer is indeed hastened, as in Luke 18:7, 8: “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you, that he will avenge them speedily.”  Sometimes, when the blessing seems to tarry, God is even then at work to bring it about in the best time and the best manner: “Though it tarry, wait for it; it will come, it will not tarry” (Habakkuk 2:3).

3. That the Most High is eminently one that hears prayer, appears by his giving so liberally in answer to prayer; James 1:5, 6: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all liberally, and upbraideth not.”  Men often show their backwardness to give, both by the scantiness of their gifts, and by upbraiding those who ask of them.  They will be sure to put them in mind of some faults, when they give them any thing, but, on the contrary, God both gives liberally, and upbraids us not with our undeservings.  He is plenteous and rich in his communications to those who call upon him: “For thou art good and ready to forgive, and plenteous hi mercy unto all that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5) and “For there is no difference between the few and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12).

Sometimes, God not only gives the thing asked, but he gives them more than is asked.  So he did to Solomon: “Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.  And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches and honor, so that there shall not be and among the kings like unto thee, all the days” (1 Kings 3:12,13).  Yea, God will give more to his people than they can either ask or think, as is implied in Ephesians 3:20: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.”

4. That God is eminently of this character, appears by the greatness, of the things which he hath often done in answer to prayer. Thus, when Esau was coming out against his bother Jacob, with four hundred men, without doubt fully resolved to cut him off, Jacob prayed and God turned the heart of Esau, so that he met Jacob in a very friendly manner (Genesis 32).  So in Egypt, at the prayer of Moses, God brought those dreadful plagues, and at his prayer removed them again.  When Samson was ready to perish with thirst, he prayed to God and he brought water out of a dry jaw-bone, for his supply (Judges 15:18,19). And when he prayed, after his strength was departed from him, God strengthened him, so as to pull down the temple of Dagon on the Philistines: so that those whom he slew at his death were more than all those whom he slew in his life.  Joshua prayed to God, and said, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon;” and God heard his prayer, and caused the sun and moon to stand still accordingly.  The prophet “Elijah was a man of like passion” with us; “and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain; and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months.  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit;” as the apostle James observes (James 5:17, 18).  So God confounded the army of Zerah, the Ethiopian, of a thousand thousand, in answer to the prayer of Asa (2 Chronicles 14:9).  And God sent an angel, and slew in one night an hundred and eighty-five thousand men of Sennacherib’s army, in answer to Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 19:14-19, 35).

5. This truth appears, in that God is, as it were, overcome by prayer. When God is displeased by sin, he manifests his displeasure, comes out against us in his providence, and seems to oppose and resist us; in such cases, God is, speaking after the manner of men, overcome by humble and fervent prayer.  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).  It has a great power in it; such a prayer-hearing God is the Most High, that he graciously manifests himself as conquered by it.  Thus God appeared to oppose Jacob in what he sought of him, yet Jacob was resolute, and overcame.  Therefore God changed his name from Jacob to Israel; for, says he, “as a prince thou hast power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).  A mighty prince indeed!   “Yea, he had power over the angel and prevailed: he wept and made supplication unto him” (Hosea 12:4).  When his anger was provoked against Israel, and he appeared to be ready to consume them in his hot displeasure, Moses stood in the gap, and by his humble and earnest prayer and supplication averted the stroke of divine vengeance (Exodus 32:9; Numbers 14:11).

III. Herein the most high God is distinguished from false gods.

The true God is the only one of this character; there is no other of whom it may be said, that he heareth prayer.   Many of those things that are worshipped, as gods are idols made by their worshippers, mere stocks and stones that know nothing.  They are indeed made with ears; but they hear not the prayers of them that cry to them.  They have eyes; but they see not (Psalm 115:5, 6).  Others, though not the work of men’s hands, yet are things without life.  Thus, many worship the sun, moon, and stars, which, though glorious creatures, yet are not capable of knowing any thing of the wants and desires of those who pray to them.  Some worship certain kinds of animals, as the Egyptians were wont to worship bulls, which, though not without life, yet are destitute of that reason whereby they would be capable of knowing the requests of their worshippers.  Others worship devils instead of the true God: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils” (1 Corinthians 10:20).

These though beings of great powers, have not knowledge necessary to capacitate them fully to understand the state, circumstances, necessities, and desires of those who pray to them.  But the true God perfectly knows the circumstances of every one that prays to him throughout the world.  Though millions pray to him at once, in different parts of the world, it is no more difficult for him who is infinite in knowledge, to take notice of all than of one alone.  God is so perfect in knowledge, that he doth not need to be informed by us, in order to a knowledge of our wants, for he knows what things we need before we ask him.  The worshippers of false gods were wont to lift their voices and cry aloud, lest their gods should fail of hearing them, as Elijah tauntingly bid the worshippers of Baal do (1 Kings 18:27).  But the true God hears the silent petitions of his people.  He needs not that we should cry aloud; yea, he knows and perfectly understands when we only pray in our hearts, as Hannah did (1 Samuel 1:13).

Idols are but vanities and lies, in them is no help.  As to power or knowledge, they are nothing; as the apostle says, “An idol is nothing in the world” (1 Corinthians 8:4).  As to images, they are so far from having power to answer prayer, that they are not able to act, “They have hands, and handle not; feet have they, but they walk not; neither speak they through their throat.”  They, therefore, that make them and pray to them, are senseless and sottish, and make themselves, as it were, stocks and stones, like unto them: Psalm 115:7-8 and Jeremiah 10:5: “They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go.  Be not afraid of them for they cannot do evil; neither also is it in them to do good.”

As to the hosts of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars, although mankind receives benefit by them, yet they act only by necessity of nature; therefore they have no power to do any thing in answer to prayers.  And devils though worshipped as gods, are not able, if they had disposition, to make those happy who worship them, and can do nothing at all but by divine permission, and as subject to the disposal of Divine Providence.  When the children of Israel departed from the true God to idols, and yet cried to him in their distress, he reproved them for their folly, by bidding them cry to the gods whom they had served, for deliverance in the time of their tribulation (Joshua 10:14). So God challenges those gods themselves: “Show the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods, yea, do good or do evil, that we may be dismayed and behold it together.  Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought, an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isaiah 12:23, 24).  These false gods, instead of helping those who pray to them cannot help themselves.  The devils are miserable tormented spirits, they are bound in chains of darkness for their rebellion against the true God, and cannot deliver themselves.  Nor have they any more disposition to help mankind, than a parcel of hungry wolves or lions would have to protect and help a flock of lambs.  And those that worship and pray to them get not their good-will by serving them: all the reward that Satan will give them for the service which they do him, is to devour them.

IV. To give the reasons of the doctrine, which I would do in answer to these two inquiries: first, Why God requires prayer in order to the bestowment of mercies, and secondly, Why God is so ready to hear the prayers of men?

Inquiry 1. Why doth God require prayer in order to the bestowment of mercies?

It is not in order that God may be informed of our wants or desires.  He is omniscient, and with respect to his knowledge unchangeable.  God never gains any knowledge by information. He knows what we want, a thousand times more perfectly than we do ourselves before we ask him.  For though, speaking after the manner of men, God is sometimes represented as if he were moved and persuaded by the prayers of his people; yet it is not to be thought that God is properly moved or made willing prayers; for it is no more possible that there should be any new inclination or will in God, than new knowledge.  The mercy of God is not moved or drawn by anything in the creature; but the spring of God’s beneficence is within himself only; he is self-moved; and whatsoever mercy he bestows, the reason and ground of it is not to be sought for in the creature, but in God’s own good pleasure.

It is the will of God to bestow mercy in this way, viz. in answer to prayer, when he designs beforehand to bestow mercy, yea, when he has promised it; as Ezekiel 36:36, 37: “I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.  Thus saith the Lord, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.”  God has been pleased to constitute prayer to be antecedent to the bestowment of mercy, and he is pleased to bestow mercy in consequence of prayer, as though he were prevailed on by prayer.  When the people of God are stirred up to prayer, it is the effect of his intention to show mercy; therefore he pours out the spirit of grace and supplication.

There may be two reasons given why God requires prayer in order to the bestowment of mercy, one especially respects God, and the other respects ourselves.

1. With respect to God, prayer is but a sensible acknowledgment of our dependence on him to his glory. As he hath made all things for his own glory, so he will be glorified and acknowledged by his creatures; and it is fit that he should require this of those who would be the subjects of his mercy.  That we, when we desire to receive any mercy from him, should humbly supplicate the Divine Being for the bestowment of that mercy, is but a suitable acknowledgment of our dependence on the power and mercy of God for that which we need, and but a suitable honor paid to the great Author and Fountain of all good.

2. With respect to ourselves, God requires prayer of us in order to the bestowment of mercy, because it tends to prepare us for its reception. Fervent prayer many ways tends to prepare the heart.  Hereby is excited a sense of our need, and of the value of the mercy which we seek and at the same time earnest desires for it, whereby the mind is more prepared to prize it, to rejoice in it when bestowed, and to be thankful for it.  Prayer, with suitable confession, may excite a sense of our unworthiness of the mercy we seek; and the placing of ourselves in the immediate presence of God, may make us sensible of his majesty, and in a sense fit to receive mercy of him.  Our prayer to God may excite in us a suitable sense and consideration of our dependence on God for the mercy we ask, and a suitable exercise of faith in God’s sufficiency them so we may be prepared to glorify his name when the mercy is received.

Inquiry 2. Why is God so ready to hear the prayers of men.

1. Because he is a God of infinite grace and mercy. It is indeed a very wonderful thing, that so great a God should be so ready to hear our prayers, though we are so despicable and unworthy: that he should give free access at all times to every one: should allow us to be importunate without esteeming it an indecent boldness, should be so rich in mercy to them that call upon him, that worms of the dust should have such power with God by prayer; that he should do such great things in answer to their prayers, and should show himself, as it were, overcome by them.  This is very wonderful, when we consider the distance between God and us, and how we have provoked him by our sins, and how unworthy we are of the least gracious notice.  It cannot be from any need that God stands in of us; for our goodness extendeth not to him.  Neither can it he from any thing in us to incline the heart of God to us; it cannot be from any worthiness in our prayers, which are in themselves polluted things.  But it is because God delights in mercy and condescension.  He is herein infinitely distinguished from all other gods: he is the great fountain of all good, from whom goodness flows as light from the sun.

2. [Because] we have a glorious Mediator, who has prepared the way, that our prayers may he heard consistently with the honor of God’s justice and majesty. Not only has God in himself mercy sufficient for this, but the Mediator has provided that this mercy may be exercised consistently with the divine honor.  Through him, we may come to God for mercy, he is the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come to the Father but by him.  This Mediator hath done three things to make way for the hearing of our prayers.

(1) He hath by his blood made atonement for sin; so that our guilt need not stand in the way, as a separating wall between God and us, and that our sins might not be a cloud through which our prayers cannot pass.  By his atonement, he hath made the way to the throne of grace open.  God would have been infinitely gracious if there had been no Mediator; but the way to the mercy-seat would have been blocked up.  But Christ hath removed whatever stood in the way.  The veil which was before the mercy seat “is rent from the top to the bottom,” by the death of Christ.  If it had not been for this, our guilt would have remained as a wall of brass to hinder our approach.  But all is removed by his blood (Hebrews 10:17).

(2) Christ, by his obedience, has purchased this privilege, viz. that the prayers of those who believe in him should be heard.  He has not only removed the obstacles to our prayers, but has merited a hearing of them.  His merits are the incense that is offered with the prayers of the saints, which renders them a sweet savor to God, and acceptable in his sight.  Hence the prayers of the saints have such power with God; hence at the prayer of a poor worm of the dust God stopped the sun in his course for about the space of a whole day; hence Jacob as a prince had power with God, and prevailed.  Our prayers would be of no account, and of no avail with God, were it not for the merits of Christ.

(3) Christ enforces the prayers of his people, by his intercession at the right hand of God in heaven.  He hath entered for us into the holy of holies, with the incense which he hath provided, and there he makes continual intercession for all that come to God in his name; so that their prayers come to God the Father through his hands, if I may so say; which is represented in Revelation 8:3, 4: “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar, which is before the throne.  And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God, out of the angel’s hand.”  This was typified of old by the priest’s offering incense in the temple, at the time when the people were offering up their prayers to God; as Luke 1:10: “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.”

Application

Hence we may learn how highly we are privileged, in that we have the Most High revealed to us, who is a God that heareth prayer.  The greater part of mankind are destitute of this privilege.  Whatever their necessities are, whatever their calamities or sorrows, they have no prayer-hearing God to whom they may go.  If they go to the gods whom they worship, arid cry to them ever so earnestly, it will be in vain.  They worship either, lifeless things, that can neither help them; nor know that they need help or wicked cruel spirits, who are their enemies, and wish nothing but their misery; and who, instead of helping them, are from day to day working their ruin, and watching over them as a hungry lion watches over his prey.

How are we distinguished from them, in that we have the true God made known to us; a God of infinite grace and mercy a God full of compassion to the miserable, who is ready to pity us under all our troubles and sorrows, to hear our cries, and to give us all the relief which we need, a God who delights in mercy, and is rich unto all that call upon him!  How highly privileged are we, in that ye have the holy word of this same God, to direct us how to seek for mercy! And whatever difficulties or distress we are in, we may so to him with confidence and great encouragement.

What a comfort may this be to us!  And what reason have we to rejoice in our privileges, to prize them so highly, and to bless God that he hath been so merciful to us, as to give us his word, and reveal himself to us; and that he hath not left us to cry for help to stocks and stones, and devils, as he has left many thousands of others.

Objection

I have often prayed to God for certain mercies, and he has not heard my prayers. — To this I answer,

1. It is no argument, that God is not a prayer-hearing God, if he gives not to men what they ask of him to consume upon their lusts. Oftentimes when men pray for temporal good things, they desire them for no good end, but only to gratify their pride or sensuality.  If they pray for worldly good things chiefly from a worldly spirit; and make an idol of the world; It is no wonder that God doth not hear their prayers: “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, to consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).  If you request him to give you something of which you will make an idol, and set up in opposition to him — or will use as weapons of warfare against him, or as instruments to serve his enemies — no wonder that God will not hear you.  If God should hear such prayers, he would act as  his own enemy, inasmuch as he would bestow them to serve his enemies.

2. It is no argument that God is not a prayer-hearing God, that he heareth not insincere and unbelieving prayers. How can we expect that he should have any respect to that which has no sincerity in it!  God looketh not at words, but at the heart, and it is fit that he should do so.  If men pray only in words, and not in heart, what are their prayers good for?  And why should that God who searches the heart, and tries the reins, have any respect to them?

Sometimes men do nothing but dissemble in their prayers, and when they do so, it is no argument that God is the less a prayer-hearing God, that he doth not hear such prayers, for it is no argument of want of mercy.  Sometimes they pray for that in words which they really desire not in their hearts, as that he would purge them from sin, when at the same time they show by their practice, that they do not desire to be purged from sin, while they love and choose it, and are utterly averse to parting with it.  In like manner, they often dissemble in the presence and show, which they make in their prayers, of dependence on God for mercies, and of a sense of his sufficiency to supply them.  In our coming to God, and praying to him for such and such things, there is a show that we are sensible we are dependent on him for them, and that he is sufficient to give them to us.  But men sometimes seem to pray, while not sensible of their dependence on God, nor do they think him sufficient to supply them; for all the while they trust in themselves, and have no confidence in God.

They show in words as though they were beggars; but in heart they come as creditors, and look on God as their debtor.  In words they seem to ask for things as the fruit of free grace; but in heart they account it would be hard, unjust, and cruel, if God should deny them.  In words they seem humble and submissive, but in heart they are proud and contentious; there is no prayer but in their words.

It doth not render God at all the less a prayer-hearing God, that he distinguishes, as an all-seeing God, between real prayers and pretended ones.  Such prayers as those which I have just now been mentioning, are not worthy of the name in the eyes of him who searches the heart, and sees things as they are.  That prayer which is not of faith, is insincere; for prayer is a show or manifestation of dependence on God, and trust in his sufficiency and mercy.  Therefore, where this trust or faith is wanting, there is no prayer in the sight of God.  And however God is sometimes pleased to grant the requests of those who have no faith, yet he has not obliged himself so to do, nor is it an argument of his not being a prayer-hearing God, when he hears them not.

3. It is no argument that he is not a prayer-hearing God that he exercises his own wisdom as to the time and manner of answering prayer. Some of God’s people are sometimes ready to think, that he doth not hear their prayers, because he doth answer them at the times when they expected, when indeed God doth hear them, and will answer them, in the time and way to which his own wisdom directs.  The business of prayer is not to direct God, who is infinitely wise, and needs not any of our directions; who knows what is best for us ten thousand times better than we, and knows what time and what way are best.  It is fit that he should answer prayer’s and, as an infinitely wise God, in the exercise of his own wisdom, and not ours.  God will deal as a father with us, in answering our requests.  But a child is not to expect that the father’s wisdom be subject to his nor ought he to desire it, but should esteem it a privilege, that the parent will provide for him according to his own wisdom.

As to particular temporal blessings for which we pray, it is no argument that he is not a prayer-hearing God, because he bestows them not upon us; for it may be that God sees the things for which we pray, not to be best for us.  If so, it would be no mercy in him to bestow them upon us, but a judgment.  Such things, therefore, ought to always to be asked with submission to the divine will.  God can answer prayer, though he bestow not the very thing for which we pray.  He can sometimes better answer the lawful desires and good end we have in prayer another way.  If our end be our own good and happiness, God can perhaps better answer that end in bestowing something else than in the bestowment of that very thing which we ask.  And if the main good we aim at in our prayer be attained, our prayer is answered, though not in the bestowment of the individual thing which we sought.  And so that may still be true which was before asserted, that God always hears the prayer OF FAITH.  God never once failed of hearing a sincere and believing prayer; and those promises forever hold good, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you: for every one that asketh, receiveth and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”

Another use of this doctrine may be, of reproof to those that neglect the duty of prayer.  If we enjoy so great a privilege as to have the prayer hearing God revealed to us, how great will be our folly and inexcusableness if we neglect the privilege, or make no use of it, and deprive ourselves of the advantage by not seeking this God by prayer.  They are hereby reproved who neglect the great duty of secret prayer, which is more expressly required in the word of God than any other kind.  What account can those persons give of themselves, who neglect so known a duty?  It is impossible that any among us should be ignorant of this command of God.  How daring, therefore, is their wickedness who live in the neglect of this duty and what can they answer to their Judge, when he shall call them to an account for it?

Here I shall briefly say something to an EXCUSE which some may be ready to make for themselves.  Some may be ready to say, If I do pray, my prayer will not be the prayer of faith, because I am in a natural condition, and have no faith.

This excuses not from obedience to a plain command of God.  The command is to all to whom the command shall come.  God not only directs godly persons to pray, but others also.  In the beginning of the second chapter of Proverbs, God directs all persons to cry after wisdom, and to lift up their voices for understanding, in order to their obtaining the fear and knowledge of God; and in James 1:5, the apostle says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God.”   Also Peter directed Simon Magus to repent, and pray to God, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven him (Acts 8:22).  Therefore when God says, do thus or thus, it is not for us to make excuses, but we must do the thing required.  Besides, God is pleased sometimes to answer the prayers of unbelievers.  Indeed he hears not their prayers for their goodness or acceptableness, or because of any true respect to him manifested in them, for there is none; nor has he obliged himself to answer such prayers; yet he is pleased sometimes, of his sovereign mercy, to pity wicked men, and hear their cries.  Thus he heard the cries of the Ninevites, (Jonah 3) and the prayer of Ahab, 1 Kings 21:27, 28.  Though there be no regard to God in their prayers, yet he, of his infinite grace, is pleased to have respect to their desires of their own happiness, and to grant their requests.  He may, and sometimes does, hear the cries of wicked men as he hears the hungry ravens, when they cry (Psalm 147:9) and as he opens his bountiful hand, and satisfies the desires of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).  Besides the prayers of sinners, though they have no goodness in them, yet are made a means of a preparation for mercy.

Finally, seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereunto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.

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1. Faith is a belief of a testimony (2 Thess. 1:10). “When he shall come to be glorified in his saints and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” It is an assent to truth as appears by the 11th of Hebrews. And it is saving faith that is there spoken of, as appears by the last verses of the foregoing chapter: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they, without us, should not be made perfect.” “Saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent ye and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through his name” (John 21:31). “But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).

11. It is something more than merely the assent of the understanding, because it is called an obeying the gospel. For Esaias saith, “Lord, who has believed our report?” “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).

It is obeying the doctrine from the heart. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” etc. (Rom. 6:17, 18).

12. This expression of obeying the gospel, seems to denote the heart’s yielding to the gospel in what it proposes to us in its calls: it is something more than merely what may be called a believing the truth of the gospel. “Nevertheless, among the chief rulers also, many believed on him; but, because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue”(John 12:42). And Philip asked the eunuch, whether he believed with all his heart? It is a fully believing, or a being fully persuaded: this passage evidences that it is so much at least.

13. There are different sorts of faith that are not true and saving, as is evident by what the apostle James says, “Show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works:” where it is supposed that there may be a faith without works, which is not the right faith. When he says, “I will show thee my faith by my works,” nothing else can be meant, than that I will show thee that my faith is right.

14. It is a trusting in Christ. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little: blessed are all they that put their trust in him” (Psa. 2:12). “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ: in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:12, 13). “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

Many places in the Old Testament speak of trusting in God as the condition of his favor and salvation; especially Psalm 75:21, 22: “Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel: because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation.” It implies submission. “And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse; and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in him shall the Gentiles trust” (Rom. 15:12). “For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). “For which cause I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom 1 have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). “Why are ye fearful. 0 ye of little faith?” (Mat. 5:26). “Which Jesus, when he perceived, he said unto them. 0 ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”(Matt 16:8). “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life; and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (I John 5:13,14). Believing in Christ in one verse is called confidence, in the text.

15. It is a committing ourselves to Christ; “For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). This is a scripture sense of the word believe, as is evident by “Jesus did not commit himself to them” (John 2:24).

16. It is a gladly receiving the gospel. “Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). It is approving the gospel. “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him. But wisdom is justified of all her children” (Luke 7:30, 35). It is obeying the doctrine. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin; but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17). It is what may be well understood by those expressions of coming to Christ, of looking to him, of opening the door to let him in. This is very evident by Scripture. It is a coming and taking the waters of life, eating and drinking Christ’s flesh and blood, hearing Christ’s voice and following him. “But ye believe not: because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’” (John 10:26, 27). “Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world; he that followeth me, shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).

17. Faith consists in two things, viz. in being persuaded of, and in embracing, the promises: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). “Charity believeth all things, hopeth all things” (1 Cor. 13:7). If that faith, hope, and charity, spoken of in this verse, be the same with those that are compared together in the last verse, then faith arises from a charitable disposition of heart, or from a principle of divine love. “But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you,” with the context (John 5:42). “Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord you God proveth you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul” (Lev. 13:3). “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him” (1 John 5:1).

23. It is submitting to the righteousness of God. “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). It is what may be well represented by flying far refuge, by the type of flying to the city of refuge. “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18). It is a sense of the sufficiency and the reality of Christ’s righteousness, and of his power and grace to save. “He shall convince the world of sin of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). It is a receiving the truth with a love to it. It is receiving the love of the truth. “And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. That they all might he damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2Thess. 2:10,12). The heart must close with the new covenant by dependence upon it and by love and desire. “Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure. This is all my salvation and all my desire, although he make it not grow” (2 Sam. 23:5).

24. Upon the whole, the best, and clearest, and most perfect definition of justifying faith, and most according to the Scripture, that I can think of is this, faith is the soul’s entirely embracing the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior. The word “embrace” is a metaphorical expression: but I think it much clearer than any proper expression whatsoever. It is called believing, because believing is the first act of the soul in embracing a narration or revelation: and embracing, when conversant about a revelation or thing declared, is more properly called believing, than loving or choosing. If it were conversant about a person only, it would be more properly called loving. If it were only conversant about a gift, an inheritance, or reward, it would more properly be called receiving or accepting, etc.

The definition might have been expressed in these words: faith is the soul’s entirely adhering and acquiescing in the revelation of Jesus Christ as our Savior-or thus: faith is the soul’s embracing that truth of God, that reveals Jesus Christ as our Savior-or thus: faith is the soul’s entirely acquiescing in, and depending upon, the truth of God, revealing Christ as our Savior.

It is the whole soul according and assenting to the truth, and embracing of it. There is an entire yielding of the mind and heart to the revelation, and a closing with it, and adhering to it, with the belief, and with the inclination and affection. It is admitting and receiving it with entire credit and respect. The soul receives it as true, as worthy, and excellent. It may be more perfectly described than defined by a short definition, by reason of the penury of words; a great many words express it better than one or two. I here use the same metaphorical expressions; but it is because they are much clearer than any proper expressions that I know of.

It is the soul’s entirely acquiescing in this revelation from a sense of the sufficiency, dignity, glory, and excellency of the author of the revelation.

Faith is the whole soul’s active agreeing, according and symphonizing with this truth; all opposition in judgment and inclination so far as he believes being taken away. It is called believing because fully believing this revelation, is the first and principal exercise and manifestation of this accordance and agreement of soul.

25. The adhering to the truth, and acquiescing in it with judgment is a sense of the glory of the revealer, and the sufficiency and excellency of the performer of the facts. The adhering to it and acquiescing in it with the inclination and affection, is from the goodness and excellency of the thing revealed, and of the performer. If a person be pursued by an enemy and commit himself to a king or a captain, to defend him, it implied his quitting other endeavors, and applying to him for defense and putting himself under him, and hoping that he will defend him.

If we consider it as a mere act of the mind, a transaction between spiritual beings, considered as abstracted from any external action, then it is the mind’s quitting all other endeavors and seeking and applying itself to the Savior for salvation, fully choosing salvation by him, and delivering itself to him, or a being willing to be his with a hope that he will save him. Therefore, for a person to commit himself to Christ as a Savior, is quitting all other endeavors and hopes and heartily applying himself to Christ for salvation, fully choosing salvation by him, and acquiescing in his way of salvation, and a hearty consent of the soul to be his entirely, hoping in his sufficiency and willingness to save.

Excerpted and edited from The Works of Jonathan Edwards. This volume contains many more thoughts by Edwards on the nature of saving faith than those we have listed here.

Copyright Jim Ehrhard, 1999. You are permitted to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author; (2) any modifications are clearly marked; (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction; and (4) you do not make more than 100 copies without permission.

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