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and how shall they hear without a preacher?-So then, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Those who never believe the gospel, will not be saved nor profited by it; but it may have effects on such as are not yet true believers, tending to their salvation.
We will therefore consider, under the present head, how God is pleased to bless his word, when truly preached, for the conversion of sinners, as well as for the edification of saints. And,
1. By gospel preaching, God sometimes gives the unregenerate that knowledge of himself, which is necessary to awaken their fears of his wrath and curse, and to excite them to an anxious inquiry what they must do to be saved. "The fear of the Lord," as we are repeatedly told, " is the beginning of wisdom.”· And we often see, that being afraid of God, as a righteous Judge, is the beginning of serious attention in sinners to the things of religion. Careless transgressors have no fear of God before their eyes. Some of them openly declare, and all of them inwardly imagine, that the Most High, though holy and almighty, is not greatly to be fearal. They hope he will not punish them, however they break his laws, abuse his grace, and are full of all unrighteousness and unmercifulness towards their fellow men. In this hope they are confirmed by the long delay of judgment, and by the present promiscuous dispensations of Providence. "All things come alike to all." The wicked live; sometimes become, and often are migh.. ty in power. Sentence against them for their evil works is not executed. From these things they are led to presume, either that God is not much displeased at iniquity; or that he is too merciful ever to execute vengeance.
To guard against such fatal presumptions, thence arising, full provision is made in the gospel: not on
ly by solemn verbal declarations, but also by the exhibition of a most convincing awful fact. As the ground of his present forbearance, and offers of pardoning mercy, God hath set forth his own Son, the sinner's voluntary substitute and Saviour; forsaken, wounded, bruised, and pouring out his soul unto death it not being possible, after he had undertaken our redemption, that this cup should pass from him. Thus, as an apostle observes, "The righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith." Thus, "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." And thus, "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth." When once this astonishing fact in the true import of it is believed, though only with the faith of devils, the most hardened sinners will be pricked in their heart, like Peter's hearers; when they said unto him, and to the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
2. By the word of truth, when rightly divided, God is sometimes pleased to give sinners that knowledge of themselves, which is necessary to make them see their need of a Saviour, and of a sanctifier, and of sovereign grace.
Men effectually moved with fear, will soon be put upon preparing an ark, in which they may feel safe. At first, however, when sinners in Zion are afraid, they generally go about to establish their own righteousness; hoping to be justified, as it were, by the deeds of the law. Some of the grosser ways of sinthey resolve to forsake: on some of the neglected duties of religion, they determine carefully to attend. And if these good resolutions are tolerably kept for any time, they are apt to grow easier. Destruction from God is not so much a terror to them. Now they will be ready to say, "Because we are innocent," or are doing the best we can, "surely his anger shall turn from us."
To endeavor to force poor creatures out of such comfortable refuges, looks cruel; and to effect it, is one of the most difficult things in the ministry of reconciliation. But it must be done, or they cannot be saved. Nor is there any want of means which will be effectual for this end, under the co-operation of the divine Spirit. 2 Cor. x. 4, 5, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds: Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God." Of these strong holds, the inability of sinners is the strongest -the citadel-the last resource. That they have the perfect righteousness of the law, few, if any, will pretend. Perhaps they dare not say that they have any real righteousness at all: but this they cannot have while unregenerate. Their being yet impenitent and unbelievers, they will readily acknowledge: but this they cannot help, till a new heart is given them. External duties are all that they are capable of doing, in their present condition. These, they mean to endeavor to do, in the most painful manner they are able and doing these, they trust God will have mercy on them. If they do the best they can, with the strength and grace they have, God will surely give them more grace. So some preach: and so sinners are comforted out of Christ; and are kept from seeing themselves in a deplorable case, or in any real danger.
But the foolishness of preaching is quite otherwise. This makes no such preliminary conditions of peace with rebel men, while their minds are not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be; and while they cannot but heartily reject the glorious Saviour, and the great salvation, freely offered them. This urges external duty indeed, in all its various branches, let men's hearts be ever so bad but it insists upon internal duties also; the duty of loving God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, in sincerity. It insists that the
law of sinless perfection is still binding on all men, and is just and good; and that the gospel, which makes repentance toward God, and faith toward Jesus Christ, the lowest terms of the covenant of promise, is infinitely gracious; any inability in fallen man to keep the one, or to comply with the other, notwithstanding.
I am sensible that such preaching is still a stumbling-block and foolishness to many, as much as Christ crucified ever was to Greek or Jew and that it will be so after all that can be said, until men are made to attend with some seriousness, and their minds are opened to receive conviction. They may be told that all their inability consists in the want of a disposition to do the things required; and that, on such a plea, common sense excuses no man, in any case. Still, however, their mouths are not stopped. Still they do not feel themselves guilty before God. Granting, say they, that all our inability does lie in the badness of our heart; yet, can we make ourselves a better heart? If not, it is no more just to condemn us for not doing the things required, than if we wanted intellectual powers, or bodily strength. But why so? Is a wicked heart no more blameable than a weak head, a broken arm, or a foot out of joint!
The thing is, those who thus reply against God, have no notion that they have a heart at all wicked; or any want of a perfectly good disposition. They mean well their desires are sincere and good. Most readily would they do whatever is right and duty, if they could but know what it was, and if they had but strength. How then are they to blame? How, indeed, if this were actually the case! But their thinking it to be so, is one of those imaginations which must be cast down. And cast down it instantly is, when the spiritual weapons of the ministry become mighty through God: When the word, impressed by the spirit, is quick and powerful,--and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Then the
sinner's meaning well-his good desires, and sincere endeavors, are as a dream when one awaketh. It is only while men are without the law, that they are thus alive, and sin is dead. When the commandment comes, sin revives, and they die. They have then a conviction of sin. Not of that dead sin, which is a cloak for all sin; but of sin which is alive, and has full dominion over them. All their fancied excusing weakness and deadness, is then seen to be no other than the life and strength of a kind of sin which is really sinful. His own iniquities are now found to have taken the wicked himself, and he feels that he is holden with the cords of his sins. This is the horrible pit and miry clay, in which a sinner perceives himself sunk deep and held fast, when once, in the light of true conviction, he is made to know the plague of his own heart. His self-condemnation is not then the less, but the greater, because he sees himself spiritually dead, and without strength to please God, or do any thing which is truly good.
3. By what is called the foolishness of preaching, a sinner, in this deplorable condition, is enabled to discover a door of mercy, and a gleam of hope.
Isaiah, having spoken of refuges of lies and hiding places of falsehood, in which secure sinners shelter themselves, but which shall be swept away by the overflowing scourge, says; " Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation." And says the apostle to the Corinthians, "Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." But of this only solid ground of hope, a great part, in christian lands, appear not to have much knowledge. They content themselves with very superficial ideas of redemption by Christ, salvation by grace, and being justified by faith. If we attempt a rational explanation of these doctrines, such discourses are thought to be on mere