THERE are some Sinners so unreasonable, and so wicked. Ask them why they don't reform their Lives, why don't you turn over a new leaf, and amend your ways and your doings, they will answer, God does not give me Grace. I can't Convert myself, and God does not Convert me. Thus do they insinuate as if God were in fault, and the blame of their Unconversion to be imputed unto him. But as Elihu speaks, Suffer me a little, and I will shew you what I have yet to say on God's behalf.
1. I say, God is not bound to give Sinners Grace: He is an absolute Sovereign, and may give Grace or deny Grace to whom he pleaseth. Shall the thing formed, say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? has not the Potter power over the Clay, to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour? The glorious God has a greater power over his Creatures, than the Potter has over the Clay. Wherefore, He has Mercy on whom He will have Mercy, and whom He will He hardens, Rom. 9.18. If He giveth Grace to any man in the World, it is from His Sovereign good pleasure. Why were such poor Fishermen as Peter, and James, and John and others, as mean as they, made the Subjects of Saving Grace, when many incomparably beyond them in Learning and Wisdom, have been left to perish in their unbelief? Even so, because so it has seemed good in the sight of Him, who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, Math. II - 25, 26. Grace is a wonderful gift of God. Sinners are enemies to him, and Rebels against him: Is He bound to bestow such a gift on his Enemies, when it may be too they will not so much as humbly Pray unto him for it[?] Indeed He sometimes has done so. Sinners that never Prayed to him, that never had one thought in their hearts of returning to him, he has miraculously Prevented them with Sovereign Grace. So it was with the Converted Gentiles. Of them the Lord sayes, I am sought of them that asked not for me, I am found of them that sought me not, I said, behold me, behold me to a Nation that was not called by my Name, Isa. 69.1. Nay, sometimes when Sinners have been in the height of their Resistance and Rebellion, to shew the exceeding Riches of his Grace, God has then Converted them. Thus it was with Saul afterwards Paul, when he was breathing out Slaughters against the Disciples of the Lord, then did God give him Faith in Christ, without his Praying for it. Thus also those Converts in the Second Chapter of the Acts. Not many days before their Conversion they had been Murdering the Son of God. And just before the Sermon began they were mocking of the Preacher, and yet Converted by that Sermon. Such Instances there have been known in the World, of men that have come to hear a Sermon only to deride it, and yet have been Savingly wrought upon by it. A credible Author reports, that two profane men drinking together, knowing that Mr. Hooker was to Preach, one of them said to the other, Let us go hear how Hooker will baul, yet was he Converted by that very Sermon, which he went to hear with a Scornful Spirit. And after that had such a love for Mr. Hooker, as to remove three thousand Miles, that so he might live under his Ministry. Such Examples are wonderful Evidences of Sovereign Grace.
2. Altho' it is true, (as has been shewed) that Sinners cannot Convert themselves, their Cannot is a wilful Cannot. Math. 22.2. They will not come. It is not said they could not (tho' they could not of themselves come to Christ) but that they would not come. If it were in the power of a Sinner to Convert himself, he would not do it: For he hates Conversion. It is abomination to fools to depart from evil, Prov. 13.19 Thou hatest instruction. If they hate to be Converted they will no chuse it. Prov. 1. 29. They hated knowledge, and did not chuse the fear of the Lord. Their hearts are in Love, and in League with their Lusts, yea they hate to be turned from them: They love darkness rather than light, they hate the light, neither come they to the light, John 3:19. Sinners are haters of God: they say and think that they love him, but the Lord knows that they hate him, and therefore they will not repent of their Sins, and believe on Christ. Christ said to the Jews, you will not come to me that you might have Life, Joh. 5: 40. No, they would dy first. And why would they not come? The reason of their Aversion is mentioned in v. 42- I know you, that you have not the Love of God in you. Their camal unregenerate Minds were full of enmity against God, and therefore they would not come to Jesus Christ the Son of God. They cannot Convert themselves, and they are not willing that God should Convert them. If Sinners were willing to have Grace and Holiness, why do they not repair to him for it, who alone can give it to them? An hungry man is willing to have bread, therefore he will seek after it, where ever it is to be had. When the Egyptians were hunger bitten, they went to Pharaoh, crying for bread, he bid them go to Joseph, and they did so. Thus if Sinners were willing to be Converted, they would cry to God to turn them: whereas there are many Sinners that did never put up one earnest Prayer to God in their Lives, that he would bestow Converting Grace on them.
3. Sinners can do more towards their own Conversion than they do or will do. They should give diligence to make sure of their being effectually called. They should stnve to enter in at the strait gate. Conversion is the strait gate that leadeth unto Salvation. They should Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth to Everlasting Life: but they do not give diligence, they do not strive, they do not Labour to obtain Grace and Salvation: Therefore they perish, and perish justly. Prov. 21. 2,5. The desire of the slothful kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. Men say that they desire Grace, and yet their hands refuse to Labour, they will be at no pains to obtain it: And this slothfulness kills them. It proves the death of their Souls. The Soul of the sluggard desireth and has nothing, but the Soul of the diligent shall be made fat, Prov. 13.4. There are several things which Sinners have power to do in order to their own Conversion, & which they ought to do, but they will not.
(i) They have power to avoid th things which are an hindrance of Conversion. e.g. They can if they will forbear the outward Acts of sin. By giving way to sin their hearts are hardned, and their Conversion becomes the more difficult. Heb. 3.13. Take heed lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. But Sinners give way to many sins which they could abstain from, if they would. A Sabbathbreaker can forbear his profaning of the Sabbath. An ungodly Swearer can forbear his profane Oathes, if he will. A Lyar can forbear telling such Lyes. Sinners can avoid the Temptations which will endanger their falling into sin. He that knows that if he goeth to such a place, or into such a company, he will probably be drawn into sin, ought to avoid the Temptation. Prov. 4.15. Avoid it, turn ftom it, and pass away. The Sinner can do so if he will, but he will not keep out of the way of Temptation. A drunkard will not avoid the Temptation to that his sin. Prov. 23.3I. Look not on the Wine when it giveth his colour. He can chuse whether he will look on the wine or no: he has power to refrain, but will not. Thus men by habituating themselves to sin, do what in them is to hinder their own Conversion. Jer. I3. 23- Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the Leopard his Spots? then may you also do good that are accustomed to do evil. Again, Evil Companions hinder Conversion. Alas! Alas! Alas! there have been the Eternal ruin of many a Young Man, that was in an hopeful way for Conversion: He has fallen in with vain Companions, they have given him bad Counsel, so have Convictions been stifled, and the motions of Gods holy Spirit quenched in his Soul. The word of the Lord sayes, Forsake the foolish & Live, Prov. 9.6. The Sinner has power to forsake them, but he will not tho' he dies for it.
(ii) Sinners have power to wait on
God in the use of means which has a tendency to promote Conversion. They
can if they will, not only forsake evil Companions, but associate themselves
with those that are good: Then are they in the way of Conversion. Prov.
13.20He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a Companion of fools
shall be destroyed. That Learned & Holy Man Dr. Goodwin
in the account which he giveth of his Conversion, declares, That when he
was a Young Schollar in the University of Cambridge, there were in that
College, which he belonged unto, a Number of holy Youth's (that's his Expression)
his associating himself with them was an happy means of furthering the
work of Conversion in his Soul. This Unconverted Sinners have power to
do. Their feet are as able to carry them to a godly Meeting as to an ungodly
one. Reading the Scripture has sometimes been the Means of Conversion.
I could tell you of several Learned Jews that were Converted from their
Judaism by Reading the 53rd Chapter of Isaiah. The famous Fr. Junius,
was Converted from his Atheism reading the first Chapter of John's Gospel.
He that can read is able to read the Scripture, and Books which promote
Godliness in the power of it, but a Sinful Creature chuseth rather to mispend
his Time in reading vain Romances, or it may be worse Books. A diligent
attendance to the Word of God is the way to obtain Converting Grace. Rom.
10.17. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
Sinners many Times do not mind what they hear. Nay, it may be they will
Set themselves to sleep when God is speaking to them by his Minister? And
shall they then complain, that they cannot Convert themselves, & that
God will not Convert them? Once more, Serious thinking & Consideration
on Spiritual and Eternal things is oftentimes blessed unto Conversion.
This is what God has given men power to do, if they will use that power.
They ought seriously to think what they have done, and what they are, and
what their end is like to be. If they would do so, it may be Repentance
would be the effect of it. I King. 8.47. If theyshall bethink themselves,
and Repent, and make Supplication. David sayes, I thought on my ways,
and turned my feet unto thy Testimonies, Psal. i i 9. 59. If men
would be Perswaded to think seriously, it may be they would Turn.
How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? A Sinner will suffer
vain thoughts to lodge within him, but serious & holy thoughts he will
give no lodging unto, he will not suffer them to abide in his heart.
Serious Consideration is a duty incumbent on Sinners. Hag. 1.5. Thus sayes
the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways. Would the Unconverted Sinner, consider
sadly what his Sinful wayes have been, what numberless sins he has been
guilty of, and what a fountain of sin his heart is, and whither he is going,
it may be Conversion would follow upon such serious consideration.
Ezek. 18.28 Because he considereth and turns away from all his Transgressions.
Yes, if he is set upon Considering, there is great hopes that he will Turn,
and that he shall live, and not dye. If he will be perswaded to go alone,
to think and consider sadly with himself, What is my present Condition?
Am I in Christ, or am I not in Christ? If I should dy this Night, What
would become of my Soul? In what World must it be to all Eternity.
It may be such considerations would issue in Conversion. Sinners should
consider of Death, that the thing is certain, and the Time uncertain, and
that they run an infinite hazzard if they neglect making sure of an Interest
in Christ one day longer. Deut. 32.29. O that they were wise, that
they would consider the latter end! And they should consider of the
eternity which follows immediately upon death. If they would do that, surely
it would affect their Souls. A late Writer (which I have formerly
mentioned) speaks of a pious man, that One in Company with him observing
a more than ordinary fixedness and concern in his Countenance, asked him,
What his thoughts were upon, he then thereupon uttered that Word For-ever,
and so continued saying nothing but repeating that Word, For-ever! For-ever!
For-ever! a quarter of an hour together. His Thoughts and Soul was swallowed
up with the consideration of ETERNITY. And truly if an Unconverted
Sinner would be perswaded to go alone and think seriously of Eternity,
if it were but for one quarter of an hour, it may be it would have an Everlasting
Impression on his heart. This Sinners can do if they will: And if they
will not do as much as this comes to, towards their own Conversion and
Salvation, how inexcusable will they be? Their blood will be upon their
own heads. Let them no more say, God must do all, we can do nothing,
and so encourage themselves to Live in a careless neglect of God, and of
their own Souls, and Salvation. Most certainly, altho' we cannot
say, That if men improve their Natural abilities as they ought to do, that
Grace will infallibly follow, yet there will not one Sinner in all the
Reprobate World, stand forth at the day of judgment, and say, Lord, Thou
knowest I did all that possibly I could do, for the obtaining Grace, and
for all that, Thou didst withhold it from me.