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object. (1) If we be under an utter inability to do any good, how can God require us to do it?—Ans. God making man upright, Eccles. vii. 29. gave him a power to do every thing he should require of him; this power man lost by his own fault. We were bound to serve God, and do whatsoever he commanded us, as being his creatures; and also, ye were under the superadded tie of a covenant, for that effect. Now, we having, by our own fault, disabled ourselves, shall God lose his right of requiring our task, because we have thrown away the strength he gave us, where withal to perform it? Has the creditor no right to require payment of his money, because the debtor has squandered it away, and is not able to pay him : Truly, if God can require no more of us than we are able to do, we need no more to save us from wrath, but to make ourselves unable for every duty, and to incapacitate ourselves for serving of God any manner of way, as profane men frequently do; and so the deeper one is immersed in sin, he will be the more secure from wrath ; for where God can require no duty of us, we do not sin in omitting it; and where there is no sin, there can be no wrath. (As to what may be urged by the unhumbled soul, against the putting of our stock in Adam’s hand, the righteousness of that dispensation was cleared before.) But, moreover, the unrenewed man is daily throwing away the very remains of natural abilities; that light and strength which are to be found amongst the ruins of mankind. Nay, farther, he will not believe his own utter inability to help himself; so that out of his own mouth he will be condemned. Even those who make their natural impotency too good a cover to their sloth, do, with others, delay the work of turning to God from time to time ; under convictions, make large promises of reformation, which afterward they never regard; and delay their repentance to a death-bed, as if they could help themselves in a moment; which speaks them to be far from a due sense of their natural inability, whatever they pretend.
Now, if God can require of men the duty they are not able to do; he can in justice punish them for their not doing it, notwithstanding of their inability. If he have power to exact the debt of obedience, he has also power to cast the insolvent debtor into prison, for his not paying it. Further, though unregenerate men have no gracious abilities, yet they want not natural abilities, which
nevertheless they will not improve, . There are many
things they can do, which they do not, they will not do them; and, therefore, their damnation will be just. Nay, all their inability to good is voluntary ; they will not come to Christ, John v. 40. They will not repent, they will die, Ezek. xviii. 51. So they will be justly condemned ; because they will not turn to God, nor come to Christ, but love their chains better than their liberty, and darkness rather than light, John iii. 19. Object. (2) Why do you then preach Christ to us; call us to come to him, to believe, repent, and use the means of salvation?—Ans. Because it is your duty so to do. It is your duty to accept of Christ as he is offered in the gospel; to repent of your sins, and to be holy in all manner of conversation: These things are commanded you of God; and his command, not your ability, is the measure of your duty. Moreover, these calls and exhortations are the means that God is pleased to make use of, for converting his elect, and working grace in their hearts; to them, faith cometh by hearing, Rom. x. 17. while they are unable to help themselves, as the rest of imankind are. Upon very good grounds may we, at the
command of God, who raiseth the dead, go to their
graves and cry in his name, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,” Eph. v. 14. And seeing the elect are not to be known and distinguished from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind man’s face, and the rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful plains; so we preach Christ to all, and shoot the arrow at a venture, which God himself directs as he sees meet. Moreover, these calls and exhortations are not altogether in vain, even to those that are not converted by them. Such persons may be convinced, though they be not converted, although they be not sanctified by these means, yet they may be restrained by them, from running into that excess of wickedness which otherwise they would arrive at. The means of grace serve, as it were, to embalm many dead souls which are never quickened by them, though they do not restore them to life ; yet they keep them from smelling so rank as otherwise they would do—Finally, Though ye cannot recover yourselves, nor take hold of the saving help offered to you in the gospel; yet even by the power of nature, ye may use the outward and ordinary means, whereby Christ communicates the benefits of redemption to ruined sinners, who are utterly unable to recover themselves out of the state of sin and wrath. & Ye may, and can, if ye please, do many things that would set you in a fair way for help from the Lord Jesus Christ. Ye may go sofar on, as to be not far from the kingdom of God, as the discreet scribe had done, Mark xii. 34. though (it would seem) he was destitute of supernatural abilities. Thoughye cannot cure yourselves, yet ye may come to the pool, where many such diseased persons as ye are have been cured: Ye have none to put you into it, yet ye may lie at the side of it; and who knows but the Lord may return, and leave a blessing behind him, as in the case of the impotent man, recorded, John v. 5, 6, 7, 8. I hope Satan does not chain you to your houses, nor stake you down in your fields on the Lord’s day; but ye are at | liberty, and can wait at the posts of wisdom's door, if ye will. And when ye come thither, he doth not beat drums at your ears, that ye cannot hear what is said; there is no. force upon you, obliging you to apply all you hear to others; ye may apply to yourselves what belongs to your state and condition; and when you go home, you are not fettered in your houses, where perhaps no religious discourse is to be heard; but ye may retire to some separate place, where ye can meditate, and pose your conscience with pertinent questions upon what ye have heard. Ye are not possessed with a dumb devil, that ye cannot get your mouths opened in prayer to God. Ye are not so driven out of your beds to your worldly business, and from your worldly business to your beds again, but ye might, if ye would, bestow some prayers to God upon the case of your perishing souls. Ye may examine yourselves, as to the state of your souls, in a solemn manner, as in the presence of God; ye may discern that ye have no grace, and that ye are lost and undone without it; and may cry unto God for it. These things are within the compass of natural abilities, and may be practised where here is no grace. It * your guilt, that you 3
will not be at so much pains about the state and case of your precious souls. And if ye do not what you can do, ye will be condemned not only for your want of grace, but for your despising of it. Object. (3.) But all this is needless, seeing we are utterly unable to keep ourselves out of the state of sin and wrath.--frts. Give no place to that delusion, which puts. asunder what God hath joined, namely the use of means, and a sense of our own impotency. If ever the Spirit of God graciously influence your souls, ye will become thoroughly sensible of your absolute inalility, and yet enter upon a vigorous use of means. Ye will do for yourselves, as if ye were to do all ; and yet overlook all ye do, as if ye had done nothing. Willye do nothing for yourselves, because ye cannot do all 2 Lay down no such impious conclusion against your own souls. Do what you can, and it may be, while ye are doing what ye can for yourselves, God will do for you what ye cannot. “Understandest thou what thou readest ?” Said Philip to the eunuch : “How can I,” said he, “except some man should guide. me *** Acts viii. 30, 31. He could not understand the scripture he read; yet he could read it; he did what he could, he read, and while he was reading, God sent him. an interpreter. The Israelites were in a great strait at the Red Sea; and how could they help themselves when upon the one hand where mountains, and on the other, the enemy’s garrison; when Pharaoh and his host were behind them, and the Red Sea before them 2. What could they do 2 “Speak unto the children of Israel,” saith the Lord to Moses, “ that they go forward,” Exod. xiv. 15. For what end should they go forward 2 Can they make a passage to themselves through the sea No ; but let them go forward, saith the Lord ; though they cannot turn sea to dry land, yet they can go forward to the shore, and so they did ; and when they did what they could, God did for them what they could not do. Quest. Has God promised to convert and save them, who, in the use of means, do what they can towards their own relief?—Ans. We may not speak wickedly for God; natural men being strangers to the covenants of promise, Eph. ii. 12. have no such promise made to them : Nevertheless, they do not act rationally, unless they exert the
powers they have, and do what they can. For, (1.) It is possible this course may succeed with them. If ye do what ye can, it may be, God will do for you what you cannot do for yourselves. This is sufficient to determine a man, in a matter of the utmost importance, such as this is, Acts viii.22. “Pray God, if perhaps the thoughts of thy heart may be forgiven thee.” Joel ii. 14. “Who knoweth if he will return ?” If success may be, the trial should be. If, in a wreck at sea, all the sailors and passengers had betaken themselves each to a broken board for safety, and one of them should see all the rest perish, notwithstanding of their utmost endeavours to save themselves, yet the very possibility of escaping by that means would determine that one still to do his best with his board. Why then do ye not reason with yourselves, as the four lepers did who sat. at the gates of Samaria? 2 Kings vii. 3, 4. Why do ye not say, If we sit still, not doing what we can, we die ; let us put it to a trial, if we be saved, we shall live; if not, we shall but die : (2.) It is probable this course may succeed. God is good and merciful; he loves to surprise men with his grace, and is often found of them that sought him not, Isa. lxv. 1. If ye do thus, ye are so far in the road of your duty ; and ye are using the means which the Lord is wont to bless for mens spiritual recovery : ye lay yourseives in the way of the great Physician, and so it is probable ye may be healed. F.Ydia went, with others, to the place where prayer was wont to be made, and the Lord opcned her heart, Acts xvi. 13, 14. Ye plough and sowo though nobody can tell you for certain, that ye will get so * much as your seed again : Ye use means for the recovery of your health, though ye are not sure they will succeed. In these cases, probability determines you; and why not in this also : Importunity, we see, does very much with men; therefore pray, meditate, desire help of God; be"much at the throne of grace, supplicating for grace, and do not faint. Though God regard not you, who, in your present state, are but one mass of sin, universally depraved, and vitiated in all the powers of your soul; yet he may regard his own ordinance. Though he regards not your prayers, your meditations, &c. yet he may regard prayer, meditation, and the like means of his own appointment, and so bless them to you. Wherefore, if ye will not do what ye.