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that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” Sinners may be awakened through fear of the penalty of the divine law; but they are never under genuine convictions, until they see the justice of the law, in requiring perfect obedience, upon pain of eternal death.
3. It is through the medium of the law, that God reconciles awakened and convinced sinners to himself. They are opposed to him entirely on account of his vindictive justice, which he has expressed in the penalty of his law. They hate God, because he will reign over them, and is disposed to punish them according to their deserts. They would have no sensible opposition to God on account of any of his perfections, if it were not for his justice, which arms all his other attributes against them. But until they are reconciled to his justice, they cannot be truly reconciled to any part of his great and amiable character. Their enmity to his justice must be slain, and it can be slain only through the medium of the law. The moment God causes them to love the justice of that law which they had before hated, they became reconciled to Himself. All their opposition to him ceases, the moment they love his law, as holy, just, and good. As they opposed him solely on account of the justice of his law, so as soon as they love the justice of his law, their enmity is slain, their opposition dies, and they become reconciled to God in that very respect in which they had been opposed to him. This is the very act of turning, or the very essence of conversion. Sinners do not begin to turn to God, until their enmity is slain by the divine law, and they see and love its perfection. Then as in a glass they behold the glory of God, and are changed into his moral image. It is only in the
. view and in the love of the divine law, that God can, to speak with reverence, reconcile sinners to himself; and a cordial reconciliation to God is necessarily implied in a sound conversion.
4. It is through the medium of the law, that God reconciles sinners to Christ. They must be reconciled to God, before they will be reconciled to Christ; they must be reconciled to the law, before they will be reconciled to the gospel. Accordingly, the law is said to be the “ school-master to bring us unto Christ." Said Christ, “ Every man that hath heard and learned of the Father, cometh unto me.” As soon as sinners are reconciled to the law that condemns them, they renounce all self-righteousness and self-dependence, and are prepared to feel their perishing need of Christ, and to trust in him alone for pardon and eternal life. Said Paul, any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more : circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the
tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee ; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord : for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.
To them who love the law by which they are condemned, Christ must be precious, as the only and all-sufficient Saviour. When sinners love the law by which they are condemned, they cannot be willing to be saved in any other way than through the atonement of Christ, which displays the very justice, that God might have displayed in punishing them forever. But when they see that God can be just, and yet pardon and save them through the redemption of Christ, they ardently desire to be received into the divine favor, and to rejoice in his pardoning mercy forever.
5. It is through the medium of the divine law that God causes believers to live a life of universal obedience. As soon as they love the law, they love to obey it. They make the perfect law of God the rule of their conduct, and endeavor to walk agreeably to it. Paul said, " I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” David said to God, “ O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. I love thy commandments above gold, yea above fine gold. Therefore I esteemi all thy precepts concerning all things to be right. I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart." As God begins a good work in the hearts of believers through the law, so he carries it on through the same medium. Through the law he binds them to universal obedience, and condemns them for disobedience. Through the law he leads them to repentance. And through the law he leads them to look to Christ every day for the pardon of their daily offences. It is through the law that they see the grace of God in awakening, convincing, and converting them, and in every step he has taken to prepare them for his service and enjoyment forever. It is through the medium of the law that God begins, carries on, and completes the salvation of sinners, or prepares them for the inheritance of the saints in light The law of perfection never has been, and never will be repealed, abated, or abolished, but remain in its full force and obligation upon all who are finally saved or lost. It will be a mirror in which saints will forever see their own guilt, and God's astonishing and discriminating grace in their salvation.
HEADS OF THE IMPROVEMENT.
1. If God converts sinners through the medium of the law, as has been shown, then it is as proper, necessary, and useful to preach to sinners, and use all the means of grace with them before they are converted, as afterwards. All means produce their effects through a divine influence, and just such effects as God pleases. God's word always accomplishes the purpose of God.
2. If it be only through the medium of the law that God converts sinners, then we see why so many entertain false hopes under the preaching of the gospel. It is because they form their hopes before they have been slain by the divine law.
3. If God converts sinners through the law, then true submission is necessarily implied in a sound conversion. But where does it come in? Answer. In cordial reconciliation to the penalty of the law.
4. If God converts sinners through the medium of the law, then it can answer no good purpose to preach the gospel without the law, or to gospelize the law.
5. If God converts sinners through the medium of the law, then all true converts will love the doctrines of the gospel when they understand them. All the doctrines of the gospel are pleasing to those who love the law.
6. If sinners are converted through the law, in the manner that has been described, then we learn why secure sinners despise the gospel. It is because the divine law has not been brought home to their hearts and consciences; and they are ignorant of the plague of their own hearts.
7. If God converts sinners through the medium of the divine law, then it is easy for him to convert whom and when he pleases. He can set home the divine law upon the mind of any one. He did upon that of Paul-upon that of the malefactor—the jailer-the three thousand on the day of Pentecost.
8. This subject calls upon all to inquire whether they have been converted. Has the commandment come? Let saints pray that God would cause his holy law to convert the unconverted.
THE DUTY OF SINNERS TO PRAY FOR PARDON.
ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts : and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”—Is. lv. 6. 7.
Isaiah has often been called the evangelical prophet, because he says more about Christ, and the peculiar privileges of the gospel, than any other of the prophets. He certainly begins this chapter in very evangelical strains. He cries, “ Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread ? and your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live ; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” Having made these free and universal offers of mercy to sinners, the prophet calls upon them to pray for them, assuring them that they shall certainly be heard. i Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near : let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." These words are expressly addressed to sinners in distinction from saints. They point out the immediate duty of sinners in their native state of alienation and distance from God. In order, therefore, that they may feel the weight and importance of this pointed and tender address to them, I shall show,
I. When God may be properly said to be near to sinners.
II. What is implied in their praying for pardoning mercy. And,
III. That God will hear their prayers for pardon and forgive
I. Let us consider when God may be properly said to be near to sinners. There is an important sense in which he is always near them. In him they live, and move, and have their being. He constantly surrounds them by his essential presence, which fills heaven and earth, and all places every moment. David was deeply impressed with this idea when he exclaimed, “ Whither shall I go from thy Spirit ? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there : if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea ; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me." In this sense, God is as near to saints as to sinners, and as near to sinners at one time as another. But in the text the prophet plainly intimates, that there is a sense in which God is nearer to sinners at one time, than at another. He directs them “to call upon him while he is near,” which plainly implies there are times or seasons in which he is more especially and peculiarly near to them. The question before us is, when do sinners realize this peculiar nearness of the Deity? They do not always realize it. Some say in their hearts, “ there is no God.” Some say in their hearts, 6 the Lord hath forsaken the earth.” Some live without God in the world, and he is not in all their thoughts." It is true of sinners, in general, that they commonly live without a realizing sense of God's nearness to them. But when he is near to them in the sense of the text, they do realize his nearness, otherwise they could not understand nor obey the injunction, to call upon him while he is near. He may, therefore, be said to be near them, when he makes them realize his nearness. He can open their eyes to see him whenever he pleases. He can come near to them in his providence, and cause them to realize the operations of his hand. He can throw them into such circumstances of trouble, sorrow, and distress, as constrain them to realize their dependence on him, and his frowns upon them. He can throw a cloud over all their earthly hopes and prospects, and sink them in despondency which shall effectually open their eyes to see him, their ears to hear him, and their mouths to call upon him.. He said he would take this method to awaken his people of old out of their stupidity. “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.” God has often awakened sinners by a bed of sickness, or by a sore bereavement, or by some other frown of providence.