- The ways by which the Lord draweth some to Christ without a sensible preparatory work of the Law
- The work of the Law, by which the Lord prepares his way unto men’s souls; which is either more violent and sudden, or more calm and gradual
- The difference betwixt that preparatory work of the Law which hath a gracious issue, and the convictions of hypocrites
1. The ways by which the Lord draweth some to Christ without a sensible preparatory work of the Law.
Having premised these things, it now follows that we give some marks by which a man may know if he be savingly in covenant with God, and hath a special interest in Christ, so that he may warrantably lay claim to God’s favour and salvation. We shall only pitch upon two great and principal marks, not willing to trouble people with many.
But before we begin to these, we will speak of a preparatory work of the law, of which the Lord doth generally make use, to prepare his own way in men’s souls. This may have its own weight, as a mark, with some persons. It is called the Work of the Law, or, the Work of Humiliation. It hath some relation to that “spirit of bondage,” and now under the New Testament answers to it, and usually leads on to the “Spirit of adoption.”
Only, here, let it be remembered,
1. That we are not to speak of this preparatory work of the law as a negative mark of a true interest in Christ, as if none might lay claim to God’s favour who have not had this preparatory work, in the several steps, as we are to speak of it; for, as we shall see, the
Lord doth not always take that way with men.
2. The great reason why we speak of it is, because the Lord deals with many, whom he effectually calls, by some such preparatory work: and to those, who have been so dealt with, it may prove strengthening, and will confirm them in laying the more weight on the marks which follow.
3. It may help to encourage others, who are under such bondage of spirit, as a good indication of a gracious work to follow: for, as we shall explain it, it will be rarely found to miscarry and fail of a gracious issue.
4. Where God uses such a preparatory work, he does not keep one way or measure in it, as we shall see. For the more distinct handling of this preparatory work, we shall shortly hint the most ordinary ways by which the Lord leads people in to the covenant savingly, and draws them unto Christ.
1. There are some called from the womb, as John the Baptist was, or in their very early years, before they can be deeply engaged actively in Satan’s ways, as Timothy. It cannot be supposed that those have such a preparatory work as we are to speak of. And because some persons may pretend to this way of effectual calling, we offer these marks of it, whereby those who have been so called may be confirmed.
1. Such wont from their childhood to be kept free of ordinary pollutions with which children usually are defiled; as swearing, lying, mocking of religion and religious persons, etc. Those whom God calleth effectually, he sanctifieth them from the time of that effectual calling: “Sin cannot have dominion over them” as over others, “because they are under grace.”
2. Religion is, as it were, natural to them; I mean, they need not to be much pressed to religious duties, even when they are but children; they run willingly that way, because there is an inward principle of “love constraining them,” so that they “yield themselves servants of righteousness,” without outward restraint.
3. Although such know not when they were first acquainted with God, yet they have afterwards such exercises of spirit befalling them, as the saints in Scripture speak of, of whose first conversion we hear not. They are shut out from God, upon some occasion, now and then, and are admitted to come nearer again to their apprehension; their heart is also further broken up by the ordinances, as is said of Lydia. And generally they remember when some special subject of religion and duty, or when some sin, of which they were not taking notice before, was discovered to them. They who can apply these things to themselves, have much to say for their effectual calling from their youth.
2. Some are brought into Christ in a sovereign gospel-way, when the Lord, by some few words of love swallowing up any work of the law, quickly taketh a person prisoner at the first, as he did Zaccheus, and others, who, upon a word spoken by Christ, did leave all and follow him; and we hear no noise of a work of the law dealing with them before they close with Christ Jesus.
And because some may pretend to this way of calling, we shall touch on some things most remarkable in that transaction with Zaccheus, for their clearing and confirmation.
1. He had some desire to see Christ, and such a desire as made him waive that which some would have judged prudence and discretion, whilst he climbeth up a tree that he might see him.
2. Christ spake to his heart, and that word took such hold upon him, that presently with joy he did accept of Christ’s offer, and closed with Christ as Lord, whilst few of any note were following him.
3. Upon this his heart opened to the poor, although it seems he was a covetous man before.
4. He had a due impression of his former ways, giving evidence of his respect to Moses’ law, and this he signified before all the company then present, not caring to shame himself in such things as probably were notorious to the world.
5. Upon all these things, Christ confirms and ratifies the bargain by his word; recommending to him that oneness of interest which behooved to be between him and the saints, and the thoughts of his own lost condition if Christ had not come and sought him, and found him.
We grant the Lord calleth some so, and if any can lay claim to the special things we have now hinted, they have a good confirmation of God’s dealing with them from Scripture; neither are they to vex themselves because of the want of a distinct preparatory work of the law, if their heart hath yielded unto Christ; for a work of the law is not desirable, except for this end.
Therefore Christ doth offer himself directly in the Scripture, and people are invited to come to him: and although many will not come to him who is the surety, until the spirit of bondage distress them for their debt, yet if any, upon the knowledge of their lost estate, would flee and yield to Christ, none might warrantably press a work of the law upon them.
As for others, whom Christ persuaded by a word to follow him; whatsoever he did, or howsoever he spake to them, at his first meeting with them, we must rationally suppose that then he discovered so much of their own necessity, and his own fulness and excellency to them, as made them quit all, and run after him: and if he do so to any, we crave no more, since there is room enough there for the Physician.
So that from all this, as some may be confirmed and strengthened, with whom God hath so dealt, so there is no ground nor occasion for deluded souls to flatter themselves in their condition, who remain ignorant and senseless of their own miseries, and Christ’s all-sufficiency, and hold fast deceit.
3. There are some brought into Christ in a way yet more declarative of his free grace; and this is, when he effectually calls men at the hour of death. We find somewhat recorded of this way in that pregnant example of the “thief on the cross.” Although this seems not very pertinent for the purpose in hand, yet we shall speak a little of it, that on the one hand men may be sparing to judge and pass sentence upon either themselves or others before the last breath; and we shall so particularise it, that, on the other hand, none may dare to delay so great a business to the last hour of their life.
We find these things remarkable in that business between Christ and the thief.
1. The man falleth out with his former companion.
2. He dares not speak a wrong word of God, whose hand is on him, but justifies him in all that has befallen him.
3. He now sees Jesus Christ persecuted by the world without a cause, and most injuriously.
4. He discovers Christ to be a Lord and a King, whilst his enemies seem to have him under.
5. He believes a state of glory after death so really, that he prefers a portion of it to the present safety of his bodily life, which he knew Christ was able to grant him at that time, that he might have chosen that with the other thief.
6. Although he was much abased in himself, and so humbled, that he pleaded but that Christ would remember him, yet he was nobly daring to throw himself upon the covenant, on life and death; and he had so much faith of Christ’s all-sufficiency, that he judged a simple remembrance from Christ would satisfyingly do his business.
7. He acquiesced sweetly in the word which Christ spake to him for the ground of his comfort.
All which are very clear in the case of that poor dying man, and do prove a very real work of God upon his heart.
As this example may encourage some to wait for good from God, who cannot as yet lay clear claim to any gracious work of his Spirit; so we earnestly entreat all, as they love their souls not to delay their soul-salvation, hoping for such assistance from Christ in the end, as too many do; this being a rare miracle of mercy, with the glory of which Christ did honourably triumph over the ignominy of his cross; a parallel of which we shall hardly find in all the Scripture besides. Yea, as there be but few at all saved: “Many be called, but few chosen;” and fewest saved this way; so the Lord hath peremptorily threatened to laugh at the calamity, and not to hear the cry of such as formerly mocked at his reproof, and would not hear when he called to them: “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh.” Which Scripture, although it doth not shut the door of mercy upon any, who at the hour of death do sincerely judge themselves and flee to Christ, as this penitent thief did; yet it is certain, it implies that very few, who reject the offer until then, are honoured with repentance as he was; and so their cry, as not being sincere, and of the right stamp, shall not be heard.
2. The work of the Law, by which the Lord prepares his way unto men’s souls; which is either more violent and sudden, or more calm and gradual.
The fourth and most ordinary way by which many are brought to Christ, is by a clear and discernible work of the law, and humiliation; which we generally call “the spirit of bondage,” as was hinted before. We do not mean that every one, whose conscience is wakened with sin and fear of wrath, does really close with Christ; the contrary appears in Cain, Saul, Judas, etc. But there is a conviction of sin, an awakening of conscience, and work of humiliation, which, as we shall particularise it, doth rarely miscarry or fail of a gracious issue, but ordinarily resolves into the “Spirit of adoption,” and a gracious work of God’s Spirit. And because the Lord dealeth with many sinners this way, and we find that many are much puzzled about the giving judgment of tins work of the law, we shall speak of it particularly.
This work is either more violently and suddenly despatched, or it is more soberly and easily protracted through a greater length of time, and so as the steps of it are very discernible. It is more violent in some, as in the jailer, Paul, and some other converts in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, on whom Christ did break in at an instant, and fell on them as with fire and sword, and led them captive terribly. And because some great legal awakenings are deceitful, and turn to nothing, if not worse, we shall point at some things remarkable in these converts spoken of before, which proves the work of the law on them to have had a gracious issue and result.
1. Some word of truth, or dispensation, puts the person to a dreadful stand, with a great stir in the soul; “some are pricked in heart,” “some fall on trembling.” And this is such a stir, that the person is brought to his wit’s end: “What wilt thou have me to do?” saith Paul; “What must I do to be saved?” saith the jailer.
2. The person is content to have salvation and God’s friendship on any terms, as the question does import, “What shall I do?” As if he had said, What would I not do? what would I not forego? what would I not undergo?
3. The person accepts the condition offered by Christ and his servants, as is clear in the forecited Scriptures.
4. The person presently becomes of one interest with the saints, joining himself with that persecuted society, putting respect on those whom he had formerly persecuted, joining and continuing with them in the profession of Christ at all hazards.
Those with whom the Lord hath so dealt, have much to say for a gracious work of God’s Spirit in them; and it is probable, many of them can date their work from such a particular time and word, or dispensation, and can give some account of what passed between God and them, and of a sensible change following in them from that time forward; as Paul giveth a good account of the work and way of God with him afterwards.
Again, the Lord sometimes carries on this work more calmly, softly, and easily, protracting it so, as the several steps of men’s exercise under it are very discernible. It would draw us to a great length to enlarge on every step of it; we shall touch on the most observable things in it.
1. The Lord lays siege to men, who, it may be, have often refused to yield to him, when he offered himself in his ordinances; and by some word preached, read, or borne in on the mind, or by some providence leading in the word, he doth assault the house kept peaceably by the strong man, the devil; and thus Christ, who is the stronger man, cometh upon him, and, by the Spirit of truth, fastens the word on the man, in which God’s curse is denounced against such and such sins, of which the man knows himself guilty. The Spirit convinces the man, and binds it upon him, that he is the same person against whom the word of God doth speak, because he is guilty of such sins; and from some sins the man is led on to see more, until usually he comes to see the sins of his youth, sins of omission, etc. yea, he is led on, until he see himself guilty almost of the breach of the whole law; he sees “innumerable evils compassing him,” as David speaketh in a fit of exercise. A man sometimes will see awful sights of sin in this case, and is sharp-sighted to reckon a relation almost to every sin. Thus “the Spirit cometh and convinceth of sin.”
2. The Lord shaketh a special strong-hold in the garrison, a refuge of lies, to which the man betakes himself when his sins are thus discovered to him. The poor man pretendeth to faith in Christ, by which he thinks his burden is taken off him, as the Pharisees said, “We have one Father, even God:” they pretend to a special relation to God as a common Lord. The Spirit of God drives the man from this by the truth of the Scriptures, proving that he hath no true faith, and so no interest in Christ, nor any true saving grace; showing clearly the difference between true grace and the counterfeit fancies which the man hath in him; and between him and the truly godly, as Christ laboureth to do to the Jews: “If God were your Father, ye would love me. Ye are of the devil, for ye do the lusts of such a father.” So, “fear surpriseth the hypocrite in heart,” especially when the Lord discovereth to him conditions, in many of these promises in which he trusted most, not easily attainable: he now seeth grace and faith to be another thing than once he judged them to be. We may, in some respect, apply that word here, “The Spirit convinceth him of sin, because he hath not believed on the Son:” he is particularly convinced of unbelief – he seeth now an immense distance between himself and the godly, who he thought before outstripped him only in some unnecessary, proud, hateful preciseness – he now sees himself deluded, and in the broad way with the perishing multitude; and so, in this sight of his misery, lies down under his own burden, which, before this time, he thought Christ did bear for him: he now begins to scar at the promises, because of that and such other words, “What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth?” etc.
3. The man becomes careful about his salvation, and begins to take it to heart, as the one thing necessary ; he is brought to this with the jailer, “What shall I do to be saved?” His salvation becomes the leading thing with him. It was least in his thoughts before, but now it prevaileth, and other things are much disregarded by him. Since his soul is ready to perish, “what shall it profit him to gain the world, if he lose his soul?” Some here are much puzzled with the thoughts of an irrevocable decree to their prejudice, and with the fears of uncertain death, which may attack them before they get matters brought to an issue; and some are vexed with apprehensions that they are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost, which is unpardonable, and so are driven to a dangerous length; Satan still upbraiding them with many sad examples of people who have woefully put an end to their own existence: but they are in the hand of one who “knoweth how to succour them that are tempted.”
4. When a man is thus in hazard of miscarrying, the Lord useth a work of preventing mercy towards him, quietly and under-hand, supporting him; and this is by bearing in upon his mind the possibility of his salvation, leading the man to the remembrance of numerous proofs of God’s free and rich grace, pardoning gross transgressors, such as Manasseh, who was a bloody idolatrous man, and had correspondence with the devil, and yet obtained mercy; and other Scriptures bearing offers of grace and favour indifferently to all who will yield to Christ, whatsoever they have been formerly: so that the man is brought again to this, “What shall I do to be saved?” which doth suppose that he apprehends a possibility of being saved, else he would not propound the question. He applies that or the like word to himself, “It may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord’s anger.” He finds nothing excluding him from mercy now, if he have a heart for the thing. Although, here it may be, the man does not perceive that it is the Lord who upholds, yet afterwards he can say, that “when his foot was slipping, God’s mercy held him up;” as the Psalmist speaketh in another case. And he will afterwards say, when he “was as a beast, and a fool, in many respects, God held him by the hand.”
5. After this discovery of a possibility of being saved, there is a work of desire quickened in the soul; which is obvious from that same expression, “What shall I do to be saved?” But sometimes this desire is directed amiss, whilst it goes out thus, “What shall I do that I may work the works of God?” In which case the man, formerly perplexed with fear and care about his salvation, would be at some work of his own to extricate himself; and here he suddenly resolves to do all that is commanded, and to forego every evil way, (yet much mistaking Christ Jesus,) and so begins to take some courage to himself again, “establishing his own righteousness, but not submitting unto the righteousness of God,” upon which the Lord maketh a new assault on him, with the view of discovering to him his absolutely fallen state in himself, that so room may be made for the surety; as Joshua did to the people, when he found them so bold in their undertakings: “Ye cannot serve the Lord,” saith he, “for he is a holy God, a jealous God,” etc. In this new assault the Lord,
1. Sets up against the man the spirituality of the law; the commandment comes with a new charge in the spiritual meaning of it. “The law came,” saith Paul, that is, in the spiritual meaning of it: Paul had never seen such a view of the law before.
2. God most holily doth loose the restraining bonds which he had laid upon the man’s corruption, and suffers it not only to work and swell within, but to threaten to break out in all the outward members. Thus sin grows bold, and spurneth at the law, becoming exceedingly sinful: “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. Was then that which is good made death unto me! God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
3. The Lord discovers to the man, more now than ever before, the uncleanness of his righteousness, and what spots are in his best things. These things kill the man, and he dies to his own self-righteousness, and despairs of relief in himself, if it come not from another quarter.
6. After many ups and downs here, generally the man resolves on retirement; he desires to be alone, he cannot keep company as before. Like those in a besieged city, who, when they see they cannot hold out, and would be glad of any good condition from the besieging enemy, go to a council, that they may resolve on something; so the man here retires, that he may speak with himself. This is like that “communing with our own heart.” Thus God leadeth to the wilderness, that he may speak to the heart. When the person is retired, the thoughts of his heart, which were scattered in former steps of the exercise, do more observably throng in here. We shall reduce them to this method:-
1. The man thinks of his unhappy folly in bearing arms against God; and here there are numerous thoughts of former ways, with a blushing countenance and self-loathing: “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight,” etc. like the Psalmist: “His sin is ever before him.”
2. Then he remembers how many fair opportunities of yielding to God he has basely lost: his spirit is like to faint when he remembers that, as is said in another case, “When I remember these things I pour out my soul in me.—O my God, my soul is cast down within me.—Deep calleth unto deep: all thy waves are gone over me.”
3. He now thinks of many Christians whom he mocked and despised in his heart, persuading himself now that they are happy, as having chosen the better part; he thinks of the condition of those who wait on Christ, as the Queen of Sheba did of Solomon’s servants: “Happy are thy servants,” saith she, “who stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom:” “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house,” etc. He wishes to be one of the meanest who have any relation to God: as the prodigal son doth speak, he would be as “one of his Father’s hired servants.”
4. Then he calls to mind the good report that is gone abroad of God, according to that testimony of the prophet, who knew that God was a gracious “God and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness,” etc. The free and large promises and offers of grace come in here; and the glorious dealings which have past upon sinners of all sorts, according to the account of God in Scripture.
5. He thinks with himself, Why hath God spared me so long? and why have I got such a sight of my sin? and why hath he kept me from destroying myself with my own hand, in choosing some unhappy relief? why hath he made this strange change on me? It may be it is in his heart to do me good: O that it may be so! Although all these thoughts be not in the preparatory work of every one, yet they are with many, and very promising where they are.
7. Upon all these thoughts and meditations the man, more seriously than ever before, resolves to pray, and to make some attempt with God, upon life and death; he concludes, “It can be no worse with him; for if he sit still he perisheth;” as the lepers speak. He considers, with the perishing prodigal son, “that there is bread enough in his Father’s house and to spare, whilst he perisheth for want:” so, he goes to God, for he knows not what else to make of his condition, as the prodigal son doth. And, it may be, he resolves what to speak; but things readily vary when he is sisted before God, as the prodigal son forgot some of his premeditated prayers: “I will arise and go to my father, and wall say unto him. Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came unto his father, and said unto him. Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” And now, when he comes before God, more observably than ever before,
1. He begins, with the Publican, afar off; with many thorough confessions and self-condemnations, of which he is very liberal: ” I have sinned against Heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy,” etc.
2. Now his thoughts are occupied concerning the hearing of his prayer, which he was not wont to question much: he now knows what those expressions of the saints, concerning the hearing of their prayers, do import.
3. It is observable in this address, that there are many broken sentences, like that of the Psalmist, “But thou, O Lord, how long?” supplied with sighs and “groanings which cannot be uttered;” and earnest looking upward, thereby speaking more than can be well expressed by words.
4. There is usually some interruptions, and, as it were, diversions; the man speaking sometimes to the enemy, sometimes to his own heart, sometimes to the multitude in the world, as David doth in other cases, “O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end.” “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.” “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?”
5. It is observable here, that sometimes the man will stop, and be silent, to hear some indistinct whispering of a joyful sound glancing on the mind, or some news in some broken word of Scripture, which, it may be, the man scarcely knows to be Scripture, or whether it is come from God, or whether an insinuation from Satan to delude him; yet this he hath resolved, only to “hear what God the Lord will speak,” as upon another occasion.
6. More distinct promises come into the man’s mind, upon which he attempteth to lay hold, but is beaten off with objections, as in another case the Psalmist is: “But thou art holy – but I am a worm.”
Now it is about the dawning of the day with the man, and faith will stir as soon as the Lord imparteth “the joyful sound.” This is the substance of the covenant, which may be shortly summed up in these words: “Christ Jesus is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.”
We can speak no further of the man’s exercise as a preparatory work; for what follows is more than preparatory; yet, that the exercise may appear complete and full, we shall add here, that after all these things, the Lord, it may be, after many answers of divers sorts, powerfully conveys the knowledge of his covenant into the heart, and determines the heart to close with it; and God now draweth the heart so to Christ, and so layeth out the heart for him, that the work cannot miscarry; for now the heart is so enlarged for him, as that less cannot satisfy, and more is not desired; like that of the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? or whom have I desired on earth beside thee?” The soul now resolves to die if he command so, yet at his door, and facing towards him.
We have narrated this preparatory work at some length, not tying any man to such a work so particularised; only we say, the Lord deals so with some; and where he so convinces of sin, corruption, and self-emptiness, and makes a man take salvation to heart as the one thing necessary, and sets him to work in the use of the means which God hath appointed for relief; I say, such a work rarely shall be found to fail of a good issue and gracious result.
3. The difference betwixt that preparatory work of the Law which hath a gracious issue, and the convictions of hypocrites.
Object. Hypocrites and reprobates have great stirrings of conscience, and deep convictions about sin, setting them to work sometimes, and I do suspect any preparatory work of the law I ever had to be but such as they have.
Ans. It will be hard to give sure essential distinctions between the preparatory work in those in whom afterwards Christ is formed, and those legal stirrings which are sometimes in reprobates. If there were not some gracious result of these convictions and wakenings of conscience in the Lord’s people, and other marks, of which we shall speak afterwards, it were hard to determine upon any difference that is clear in these legal stirrings. Yet, for answer to the objection, I shall offer some things, which rarely will be found in the stirrings of reprobates, and which are usually found in that work of the law which hath a gracious issue.
1. The convictions of hypocrites and reprobates are usually confined to some few very gross transgressions. Saul grants no more but the “persecuting of David.” Judas grants only the “betraying of innocent blood;” but usually those convictions, by which the Lord prepares his own way in the soul, although they may begin at one or more gross particular transgressions, yet they stop not; but the man is led on to see many violations of the law, and “innumerable evils compassing him,” as David speaketh in the sight of his sin. And withal, that universal conviction, if I may call it so, is not general, as usually we hear senseless men saying, “that in all things they sin;” but it is particular and condescending, as Paul afterwards spake of himself; he not only is the “chief of sinners,” but particularly, he was a “blasphemer, a persecutor.”
2. The convictions which hypocrites have, do seldom reach their corruption, and that body of death, which works an aversion to what is good, and strongly inclines to what is evil. Generally where we find hypocrites speaking of themselves in Scripture, they speak loftily, and with some self-conceit, as to their freedom from corruption. The Pharisees say to the poor man, “Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us?” as if they themselves were not as corrupt by nature as he: they speak of great sins, as Hazael did, “Am I a dog, that I should do this great thing?” and also in their undertakings of duty, as that scribe spake, “Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” See how the people do speak: “Then they said to Jeremiah, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.” They undertake to do all that God will command them; so that they still “go about,” in any case, “to establish their own righteousness, not submitting unto the righteousness of God.” But I may say, that convictions and exercise about corruption, and that body of death, inclining them to evil, and disenabling them for good, is not the least part of the work where the Lord is preparing his own way. They use to judge themselves very wretched because of a body of sin, and are at their wits end how to be delivered, as Paul speaketh, when he is under the exercise of it afterwards: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
3. It will generally be found, that the convictions which are in hypocrites either are not so serious, as that some other business will not put them out of mind before any satisfaction is gotten; as in Cain, who went and built a city and we hear no more of his convictions. Felix went away until a more convenient time, and we hear no more of his trembling. Or, if that work become very serious, then it runs to the other extremity, and despair of relief, leaving no room for escape. So we find Judas very serious in his convictions, yet he grew desperate, and hanged himself But where the Lord prepares his own way, the work is both so serious as the person cannot be put off it, until he find some satisfaction, and yet under that very seriousness he lies open for relief: both which are clear from the jailer’s words, “What must I do to be saved?”
This serious inquiry after relief is a very observable thing in the preparatory work which leadeth on to Christ. Yet we desire none to lay too much weight on these things, since God hath allowed clear differences between the precious and the vile.
Object. I still fear I have not had so thorough a sight of my sin and misery as the Lord gives to many whom he effectually calls, especially to great transgressors, such as I am.
Ans. It is true, the Lord discovers to some, strong impressions of their sin and misery, and they are thereby put under great legal terrors; but as all are not brought in by that sensible preparatory work of the law, as we showed before, so even those who are dealt with after that way are very differently and variously exercised, in regard of the degrees of terror, and of the continuance of that work. The jailer had a violent work, of very short continuance; Paul had a work continuing three days; some persons are “in bondage, through fear of death, all their days.” So that we must not limit the Lord to one way of working here. The main thing we are to look to, in these legal awakenings and convictions of sin and misery, is, if the Lord reach those ends in us, for which usually these stirrings and convictions are sent into the soul; and if those ends are reached, it is well; we are not to vex ourselves about any preparatory work further. Now, those ends which God seeks to accomplish with sinners, by these legal terrors and awakenings of conscience, are four.
First, The Lord discovers a sight of men’s sin and misery to them, to drive them out of themselves, and to put them out of conceit with their own righteousness. Men naturally have high thoughts of themselves, and do incline much to the covenant of works: the Lord therefore discovers to them so much of their sin and corruption, even in their best things, that they are made to loathe themselves, and to despair of relief in themselves; and so they are forced to flee out of themselves, and from the covenant of works, to seek refuge elsewhere: “They become dead to themselves and the law,” as to the point of justification. Then “have they no more confidence in the flesh.” This is supposed in the offers of Christ, “coming to seek and save that which is lost,” and “to be a physician to those who are sick.”
The second great end is, to commend Christ Jesus to men’s hearts above all things, that so they may fall in love with him, and betake themselves to that treasure and jewel which only enricheth, and, by so doing, may serve the Lord’s design in the contrivance of the gospel, which was the manifestation of his free grace through Christ Jesus in the salvation of men. The view of a man’s own misery and perishing condition by nature is a ready way to make him prize Christ highly, who alone can set such a wretch at liberty: yea, it not only leads a man to a high esteem of Christ, but also of all things that relate to that way of salvation, as grace, the new covenant, faith, etc. and makes him carefully gather and treasure up his Michtams or golden Scriptures, for the confirmation of his interest in these things.
The third great end is, to deter and scare people from sin, and to make them quarrel with it, and consent to put their neck under all his yoke. God kindles some sparks of hell in men’s bosoms by the discovery of their sin, as a ready means to make them henceforth stand in awe, knowing “how bitter a thing it is to depart from the Lord.” So we find rest offered to the weary, upon condition they will take on Christ’s yoke: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And God offereth to own men as their God and Father, upon condition they will allow no peaceable abode to Belial: “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
The fourth great end is, to work up men to a patient and thankful submission to all the Master’s pleasure. This is a singular piece of work: “Then shalt thou remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee, for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord.” The sight of a man’s own vileness and deserving makes him silent, and to lay his hand on his mouth, whatsoever God does unto him: “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” “God hath punished us less than our iniquities.” “I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned.” The man careth not what God doth to him, or how he deal with him, if he save him from the deserved wrath to come: also, any mercy is a great mercy, to him who hath seen such a view of himself; he is “less than the least of mercies;” “any crumb falling from the Master’s table, is welcome;” he thinks it rich “mercy that he is not consumed.” This is the thing that marvellously maketh God’s poor afflicted people so silent under, and satisfied with, their lot; nay, they think he deserves hell, who opens his mouth at any thing God does to him, since he hath pardoned his transgressions.
So, then, for satisfying the objection, I say, if the Lord hath driven thee out of thyself, and commended Christ to thy heart above all things, and made thee resolve, in his strength, to wage war with every known transgression, and thou art in some measure as a weaned child, acquiescing in what he doth to thee, desiring to lay thy hand on thy mouth thankfully; then thy convictions of sin and misery, and whatsoever thou dost plead as a preparatory work, is sufficient, and thou art to debate no more concerning it. Only be advised so to study new discoveries of the sense of thy lost condition every day, because of thy old and new sins; and also to seek fresh help in Christ, who is a priest for ever to make intercession; and to have the work of sanctification and patience, with thankfulness, renewed and quickened often; for somewhat of that work which abaseth thee, exalteth Christ, and conforms to his will, must accompany thee throughout all thy lifetime in this world.