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Grace is not found in the nature of men

Grace does not grow in the garden of nature, since there is no seed of grace to be found there­in.  Neither is it a natural power, such as that of the understanding, will, conscience, memory, or affections, which are to be found in all the children of Adam by nature.  Neither is it con-natural, such as original righteousness was in Adam before his fall; neither is it a habit acquired by the multiplicity of acts, whereof there are some disposi­tions in nature, such as the habits of arts and sci­ences, and moral virtues.

Grace is a pure stream which cannot spring forth from the polluted fountain of nature. “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean” (Job 14:4)?  You never saw figs grow upon thorns or grapes upon thistles.  Since the souls of all the fallen children of men are wholly corrupt and depraved with original sin, it is impossible that this good could be affected by the power of nature.  Some, by the strength of natural power, cultivated by education and learn­ing, may attain much knowledge in the mysteries of nature, and by studying the Scriptures, they may at­tain a notional knowledge of divine mysteries; but the excellency of these mysteries is hidden from them.  They still remain without the spiritual dis­cerning of the things of the Spirit without the teachings of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Natural men may, through observance and dili­gence, attain a great accomplishment as to many moral virtues, and hereby shine with some kind of luster in darker parts of the world.  But by no natural power or industry can they attain unto any truly sanctifying and saving grace.  The stream cannot be raised up to a greater height than the spring lies from whence it arises.  And that which is natural cannot by any natural power be elevated unto that which is supernatural.

Grace is not found in the power of the Word

It is not from any innate power in the Word or the ordinances to effect this good work of grace in the soul of any.  Indeed, the Word is an instrument, and the ordinances are means of grace; but they are only instruments and means which have no virtue and ef­ficacy in themselves unless they receive it immedi­ately from God, the efficient cause of this work.  They are but channels, not the fountain of grace. The Word is a sword, but God’s hand must draw it forth and strike with it that it may wound. There was no virtue in the waters to heal (John 5) unless the angel troubled them; and there is no virtue in ordinances to change and sanctify the soul unless the Spirit moves in them and works by them.

The Word in itself is dead; it is the Spirit that quickens it, and quickens by it.  All the arguments which ministers may draw out of the Word in preaching, though pressed with never so much earnestness and affection, cannot possibly produce this gracious change in people unless God sets in with the Word and sets it home upon the heart.  We may as easily tear hard rocks to pieces and bend great bars of iron with our breath as, by our preaching, break the stony hearts and bend the iron sinews in the necks of the impenitent.  We may as easily lift a mountain with one finger and toss it up to heaven, or, with a whisper, raise those who are dead in their graves as lift a carnal heart towards God and raise such as are spiritually dead, unless the Lord accom­panies the Word which we preach with the Holy Ghost from heaven (1 Peter 1:12).

We may bring the light to a carnal man, a hard­hearted sinner, open it in his face and tell him never so convincingly of his sin, his guilt, the curse of the law, the wrath of God, the damnation of hell, and what dreadful torments he is hastening towards in his sinful courses, yet he is insensible and secure, and not at all moved unless it is with anger against the minister who reproves and forewarns him of his danger.   And, notwithstanding all that can be said, he goes on resolvedly in this way, which will cer­tainly and may suddenly bring him to hell.  Or, if he trembles a little with Felix, if some slavish fear of punishment arises in him for the present through the impression of arguments upon natural con­science, yet however he hears sin aggravated as it re­flects dishonor upon God and defiles his own soul, he is not moved to the least true, godly, evangelical mourning and sorrow for it.

Let us set God forth in His glorious excellencies and perfections before such a sinner in His infinite greatness, power, holiness, wisdom, goodness, truth, faithfulness, mercy, and lovingkindness, yet we cannot persuade him to fear God filially, to desire Him truly, to love Him entirely, or to choose Him for his chief good here and his portion eternally.

Let us set forth the Lord Jesus Christ in His beauty and transcendent loveliness, in His mercy and in­comparable grace and love; let us speak to him never so undeniably of the great need which he has of Christ to be his Savior because he is a sinner, and in such danger because of sin; let us call upon him never so earnestly, entreat him never so pathetically to leave his sin and accept Christ so freely offered unto him; not he!  Yet He holds fast to his sin; he shuts his ear like the deaf adder who will not hear the voice of the charmer though he charms ever so wisely.  And when he harbors base lusts in his heart, which will destroy him, he shuts the door against Jesus Christ, although he might have pardon and salvation, grace and glory with Him.

Let us propound to him ever so clearly the grounds of faith; let us direct him, invite him, and persuade him to believe with the greatest possible Scripture encouragements, and yet as easily may we persuade him to lift up the earth in his arms as to put forth the least true act of faith.  Let us commend to him the ways of God with the highest praises, and call him into those ways with the most powerful mo­tives of peace, satisfaction, sweetness, advantage here, and happiness to eternity; and yet nothing will prevail with him to set one step into that path.

Surely, then, there is no inherent virtue in the Word, or any arguments, though never so persua­sive, to effect this good work of grace.  Indeed, we must urge and press arguments upon sinners to dis­suade them from sin and draw them to God and this holy path, because God works upon rational crea­tures in a rational way; yet all arguments are in themselves insufficient to produce this work, as we find by the different effects which the very same ar­guments make on those upon whom they are urged.

Some are moved, repent, and turn to God; others are obdurate, obstinate, and continue in their impeni­tency and way of disobedience whatever is said against them.  Yea, some who are more unlikely to be wrought upon, more defiled and hardened before, when also they have resisted and withstood stronger arguments, have afterwards yielded and been over­come, and have fallen down before the force which has accompanied weaker arguments.  This differ­ence in the operation of the Word plainly shows that this work of grace is not from the Word, how­ever preached and pressed, but from the power of God’s Spirit.  All that has been said to the negative makes way and proves also the positive.

God Alone Is the Author of Grace

Positively, God alone is the Author of the good work of grace. It is God who begins the work, and it is God who performs it.  In this work we are born again (John 3:3), and we are said to be both be got­ten of God (James 1:18: “Of His own will begat He us by the word of truth”) and to be born of God (John 1:13: “Which are born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;” and 1 John 4:7: “Whosoever loveth is born of God”).  We can no more beget ourselves anew than we can beget ourselves in our birth—it is a supernatural work, and therefore can be effected by none but God, who is almighty; who, by an immediate and real influence upon the soul, effects a spiritual change whereby all the faculties are changed, not in regard of their essence, but in regard of their quali­fications.  In this work, lions are turned into lambs, wolves into sheep, stones into flesh, yea, into chil­dren of Abraham.  What I mean here is that the fierce and ravenous disposition is changed into a mild and gentle temper; the stony obdurateness is removed, and the heart, which was as hard as flint before, is made soft and pliable to the will and law of God.  And who can do this but the God of nature, who first formed the spirit within man, and who alone can newly form and newly mold it after His own image?

This good work is called “a new creation” in Ephesians 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Jesus Christ unto good works.”  Ephesians 4:24: “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”  And therefore such as have this work done in them are called new creatures in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.”  And then it follows in the next verse: “All things are of God.”  All these new things are His more immediate work.  It was God alone who created all things at first and it is God alone who can create all things anew.

This work of grace is called “a resurrection,” and hereby sinners are quickened out of their spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1).  It is God who gives natural life, and He alone can give spiritual life.  He raised Christ from the dead on the third day, and He will raise up all who are dead on the last day; and only He can raise up a soul when it is dead in sin and quicken it by His Spirit, which requires the same power as was put forth in Christ’s resurrection (compare Ephesians 1:19-20 with Ephesians 2:5).  God indeed makes use of the Word in quickening and changing the soul, but the Word effects this work only instrumentally—God works it efficiently.  As there went forth a power with Christ’s Word when He called and raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:42-43), so the power of God’s Spirit goes forth with the Word of His grace to quicken dead souls and effect a gracious change within them.

Why does the Lord begin this good work in any of the children of men?

The reason, as to the motive, is only God’s free grace and love. The reason, as to the design and end, is partly that God might be glorified by them upon earth, and partly that they might be prepared for glory with Him for­ever in heaven.

The motive which induces God to begin this good work in any of the children of men is only His free grace and love.  It is a gracious work of God not only with regard to the grace which it effects, but also with regard to the grace from whence it pro­ceeds.  It is according to the good pleasure of God’s will that He chooses us (Ephesians 1:5), and it is ac­cording to the good pleasure of His will that He changes us (James 1:18).

Natural agents, in producing effects, act neces­sarily.  God is a voluntary agent, and in this work acts freely. Ephesians 2:4-5: “God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He hath loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us to­gether with Christ.”   Romans 9:15: “For He saith unto Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion.’”

If God hides the mysteries of salvation from the wise and prudent, suffering them to remain in a dark and unconverted state, and reveals those mysteries unto babes; if He chooses and calls the foolish, mean, and most despised persons, and puts His image and likeness upon them, we must say that nothing but free grace could move Him thereunto.  And then we must, with our Savior, acknowledge, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matthew 11:26).

And not only when the most unlikely person, the ignorant or notoriously wicked is graciously changed, must we cry out “Grace! Grace!” but also, whoever they are, however morally qualified before conversion, there is not the least merit in any of their works, nothing to move or incline God unto it, no disposition in the nature of any unto this gra­cious change.  And therefore it is only of free grace that those who have escaped the more gross pollu­tions which are in this world through lust are washed by the Spirit in the layer of regeneration from the inward pollutions of their hearts, from which none are free.  Titus 3:4-5: “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared.  Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost.”  And 2 Timothy 1:9: “Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own will and purpose.”

The design and end why God begins the good work of grace in any of the children of men is:

1. That hereby they might be fitted for His ser­vice, and glorify His name upon the earth.

All grace-less persons are not only children of wrath, but children of disobedience.  They are children of darkness and of the devil, yea, they are his servants; they serve the devil and divers lusts, and their whole life is a continual offense and provocation of God, a continued course of rebellion against Him and His laws.  The Lord therefore brings some of the chil­dren of men out of a state of nature into a state of grace that He might have some servants in the world, some to bear His name and stand up for His honor and interest, and oppose the sins of the times and places wherein they live; that He might have some service from them.  Hebrews 12:28: “Let us have grace that we may serve God acceptably.”  Without a work of grace upon the heart and a sanctified prin­ciple within, no services are acceptable unto God, “for they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

2. That hereby they might be fitted for glory with God forever in heaven.

God gives grace here to pre­pare for glory hereafter.  Only the pure in heart are fit and have the promise of seeing God (Matthew 5:8).  Without a new heart and life, there will be no admission into the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27).  God is glorious in holiness, clothed with majesty, all brightness, perfect purity, the high and Holy One of Israel who inhabits eternity, without the least spot, and with whom dwells no iniquity.  The heavens are not pure in His sight, and He has charged His angels with folly.  The pure seraphim proclaim His holiness and veil their faces before the splendor thereof.

And this God who is so infinitely pure and holy Himself infinitely hates and detests sin.  There is an infinite contrarity between the holy nature of God and the unholy nature of man; and therefore they cannot live together with eternal delight in heaven unless the nature of man is changed by the renew­ing grace of God.  God will not permit unsanctified persons to approach so near His glorious presence.  He will not receive such defiled creatures into the dearest and closest embraces of His infinite and eternal love.  And while they are unrenewed, heaven (which is a place of holiness whose company and employments are all holy) would be so unsuitable unto their natures that they could not find sweet­ness and delight there because none can delight in anything unless it has a suitableness to the nature of that thing in which they delight.  Therefore, the Lord changes the nature of such persons here in a work of grace whom He intends for eternal glory in the other world.

From The Good Work Begun in the Day of Grace Continued Until the Day of Christ.

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