Showing the absolute Necessity of the exertion of Almighty Power, and invincible and efficacious Grace in the Conversion of a Sinner.
GENERAL head proposed, was to demonstrate from the doctrine and evidence of the Holy Scriptures, that there is an absolute necessity for the exceeding greatness of Godís almighty power, to be invincibly and efficaciously put forth upon the heart and soul of man, to effect his conversion, and bring him to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus. Something of this has indeed been more than touched upon already, under the several foregoing heads; but there still remains something further to be spoken to under this head, more fully to demonstrate the necessity of such an exceeding greatness of Almighty invincible power in conversion: and the proof shall be of two parts; the first shall be taken from those scripture metaphors, which more than intimate the necessity of invincible, efficacious grace in effectual calling. The second sort of evidence shall be taken from scripture-instances of conversion, in which the power and efficacy of omnipotent victorious grace stand manifest to all.
First of all, the scriptures do abundantly declare and set forth the state of man by nature, through the fall, to be a state of death: and conversion from this state is set forth and declared to be a spiritual resurrection to light and life. And now this death, which through, the fall has seized upon all mankind, is to be considered, 1st, as it is a state of condemnation and wrath: so it is death in a law sense; the sentence of death and damnation being passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. 2ndly, This death is to be considered in a metaphorical sense. And so as death, corporal, is the privation of all life, sensation and power, so death, metaphorically and spiritually considered, is the privation of the life of God in his image, as it was once to be found in the great soul of man. As to the, 1st Of these, it has been already spoken to under the head of Conviction of Sin. In which it was declared to be one part of the Spiritís work and business, in order to conversion, to give the soul a full conviction of the misery of his present state with relation to the fall of Adam; as how by that one manís single act of disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit, sin and death entered, and seized upon him as a covenant-head, and all his offspring as then considered in him, and sinning with him: and hence judgment and condemnation passed as to the sentence upon all men; for that they were made sinners by this his single act of disobedience. Hence it is, that according to the doctrine of the holy scriptures we are declared to be the children of wrath by nature, as fallen under the righteous curse and sentence of the holy law: and so in this sense we are dead. But then this is not all; but,
2ndly, There is not only the sentence of death eternal that we are fallen under, but there is a state of spiritual death, as the holy scriptures manifest which consisteth in a privation of the image of God once in the soul of man, which consisted not of holiness and uprightness as qualities only, but as vital principles seated in the heart and will; by which man was then naturally inclined to love and serve his Maker with all his heart, soul, and strength; which principles of righteousness and obedience, as flowing from love and duty, together with their qualities of holiness and integrity, were lost in the fall; and a contrary or reverse image succeeded, consisting of evil principles and dispositions; whereby man is said to be alienated from the life of God, and estranged from the womb. Which is more than of holy to become unholy, or of an innocent to become a sinner; there being in our nature not only a privation or total absence of all good, consisting of the very principles of life, inclination and power of performance; but instead thereof there is the real presence of all the evil principles of sin, moral corruption and degeneracy, as well as pollution, guilt, and deformity. And hence, as the body upon the absence of life necessarily tendeth to corruption, even so in this kind of death, seizing the soul upon the fall, the image of God, so far as it consisted of holy pure principles and dispositions to good, is not only lost and evil, vicious principles and inclinations seated in their place, both in the affections and will; but there is from hence a further progressive decay and degeneracy both in the soul and life: so that although no one man, woman or child, is more dead than another, yet the effects of this death which has seized and dwelleth in all the powers of the intellectual soul, are more manifest and visible in some than in others; as in dead bodies some look fresh, fair, and beautiful for a while, others are immediately corrupted and nauseous both to the sight and smell, according as the principles of death and corruption work more powerfully and speedily, or slower in them. And even so it is in this spiritual or metaphorical death in the soul, this death worketh more powerfully in some than in others, and so the degeneracy and apostasy increaseth to a greater degree. And now, as in Adam, all are alike fallen, and become sinners, and alike dead in sin, so all are alike as to impotency and inability, to help themselves out of this present state. They have all power and will enough left to destroy themselves, if I might so say, over and over again by repeated acts of sin and rebellion against God; not only by breaking the holy law, but also in slighting, neglecting, yea, contemning and rejecting the gospel, as it is the only revelation of the way of life and salvation. In a word, this death consisteth of impotency or inability, and of indisposition and contrariety in the WILL: and upon account of the first it is, that our Lord says "No man can come to me, except it were given him of my Father," that is, except the Father draw him." (John 6:44,65) Here is impotency or inability: and as to the other part of this death, as it consisteth of contrary principles seated in the will, whereby it is prompted to resist and oppose, he says "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." (John 5:40) Thus it appeareth that one part of this impotency is lack of will, as well as lack of ability; and both these are our fault in the eye and sentence of the holy law; and not only our moral fault, but also our punishment: even as the principles of lust brought into the world with us seminally, or which by degrees breed and put forth evil motions in our flesh and will, are our real fault, and render us sinners in the eye of God who judgeth the heart; notwithstanding they are, as to their being and first motions in our heart, quite out of our power to remove or cure. And now then being our case and state by nature, the cure is harder than that of fetching a dead and decayed putrefied body to life and perfect soundness: forasmuch as in the dead body though there are impotency and indisposition, yet there are no opposition, enmity, and rebellion to be overcome as here; so that the power of God in the exceeding greatness thereof is here absolutely necessary: for nothing but omnipotence can raise the bodies out of their grave, much less such who are dead in trespasses and sins; for much sooner might the dry bones in the prophetís vision gather together, and place and fix themselves in their proper form and order, and the body restore itself to life, and its members to their proper functions, Ezekiel 37:5-10, than those who are dead in sin, and under the dominion of this spiritual death, can come forth, into a life and state of grace, until a supernatural invincible power has first wrought efficaciously in and upon them, so as to make them spiritually alive. And as in the prophetís vision there was art invisible omnipotency working with his prophesying or preaching, as the alone efficient cause of that resurrection, both as visionary represented to him, and afterwards made good upon that people; so the gospel-ministry is the ministration of life and power, not only declaratively but efficiently: forasmuch as God thereby, as in the first creation, not only commandeth but worketh by a creating power; which leadeth me,
Secondly, to consider this work of a sinnerís conversion, as represented in scripture by that of a new creation; in which we are said to be "his workmanship, as created anew in Christ." (Ephesians 2:10) We were, as creatures, his workmanship in the first framing our bodies out of the clay, and our spirits of that which did not before exist: and in this our formation we were created in Adam as our head and root; and agreeably and by way of analogy we are in our renovation and new birth his workmanship, he being the efficient, as potter, and we the clay: which new creature subsisteth in Christ as its influential head and root. Nor is this to be interpreted of a metaphorical creation as into an office, place, or privilege only, but it is a power working in and upon the heart, so as to give those things, as to the principles of grace and a new life, a real existence and being in the heart and soul of man, where there were none before. And hence, as the first man is said to have been created in his Makerís image and likeness, as to the moral rectitude of his soul, as well as on some other accounts; so this new man is also said to be "created in righteousness and true (or substantial) holiness, being renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him," Ephesians 4:24, and Colossians 3:10: in which the new creature is the subject, and righteousness, holiness, and knowledge are the principles constitutive of his very nature and being, and not loose: or adjoining accidents or qualities: and he is called the new man, for that this work is in and upon the whole soul and intellectual part of the creature, man, so that he is considered as a rational intellectual creature: and not as a creature only; for so a stone clod, or worm, may be said to be a creature, but not a man. And let them profess what they will, and live never so morally and uprightly, according to the sect or denomination to which they relate, yet, till Christ by his image is thus by a divine efficacy in them formed, it availeth nothing as to salvation; as it is written, "For in Christ Jesus, (i.e. now under the gospel) neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature," Galatians 6:15; which new creature being his workmanship, is formed in us by nothing less than the exceeding greatness of his Almighty power or divine omnipotence, by which he raised Christ from the dead. Again,
Thirdly, the state and condition of fallen man, as to his recovery by grace, is set forth in scripture by opening the eyes of the blind. Corporal blindness in man is of two sorts; one is what happeneth to man by some accidental secondary cause, and this admits of difference and degrees; thus some are blinder and more hard to be cured than others, and some altogether incurable by medicine; and others there are who are born blind, which is the saddest and most miserable state of all: and this admits of no degrees; for take twenty or a hundred blind or deaf men together, who were so born, and one is not more blind nor deaf than another: and it is allowed by all, I think, that this kind of blindness is not, nor can possibly be cured except by the exceeding greatness of Godís mighty power; much less can this spiritual blindness, which consisteth of two parts or degrees, as first one part is brought into the world with us, we being all by nature born blind and deaf, as to spiritual things; nor is one man or woman in this respect more or less blind and deaf than another: which blindness and deafness brought into the world with us, consist in a moral incapacity or inability to see and hearken, so as to make a true judgment of, and yield a spiritual obedience to Godís revealed will. Which blindness lieth chiefly in the understanding or rational part of the soul, as has been already declared; by which means the natural man cannot see, nor rightly judge of divine and spiritual things: though none more forward and fond of meddling with, and boldly determining concerning these things than such, notwithstanding the scripture calleth them but fools for their pains. "Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made (i.e. declared) the wisdom of this world to be foolishness?" 1 Corinthians 1:20, 21, forasmuch as by this, no man did ever yet, or possibly could attain to the true knowledge of God: and yet these, both among the Jews and Gentiles were, and are the only pretended seers of the day in which they did, or do now live; who with scorn and indignation, like their brethren to Christ, reply, "Are we blind also?" John 9:40, And now this spiritual blindness is received from Adam the first, as a just punishment of his endeavoring to be more wise and knowing than his Maker thought fit to make him; yea, as a just judgment for his aspiring to be like his Creator; by which means, and from which time, he grew more blind, dark, and ignorant; so that all the wise men and industrious students and philosophers that ever were, have with great pains and hard labor, but been gleaning up a few ears, or small pittance of that natural knowledge which Adam lost by eating the forbidden fruit: and more than a little natural knowledge they could never by nature, art, and industry obtain: for in the wisdom of God it was resolved that the world by all their arts, parts, scholarship, and wisdom, should never know God. He has hid the knowledge of himself in a mediator from the eyes of the wise and prudent. This then is the case as to the first part of our blindness by nature; but this is not all, there is also a further degree of blindness and darkness contracted here, both by education, custom, prejudice, and prepossession, and so some are more blind in this respect than others, and, humanly speaking, more hardly and rarely cured, though to God nothing is too hard.
And now it being more or less the sad condition of all mankind to be born blind, and afterwards to contract a greater degree of blindness through error and misapprehension; as well may the men born blind pretend to judge of the variety, beauty, and excellency of colors, or the deaf of the nature and sweetness of symphony and melody of voices or musical instruments, and their difference as to sound; as the natural mart pretend, though big with arts and attainments; but more swelled with pride, to see, discern, and make true judgment of the things of the Spirit of God, unless the Spirit first vouchsafe to cure his blindness, and unveil and reveal the mysteries. Hence the first work of the gospel as in the hand of the Spirit was "to open the blind eyes, so as to turn them from darkness to light," Acts 26:18; and that by a commanding and creating efficacy, after the same manner as light at first was given, as the apostle declareth; "But God, who commanded light, to shine out of darkness, hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of God in the person of Christ," 2 Corinthians 4:6; which hearts before were not only dark, being darkened through the fall, but through error, superstition, and prejudice, they had received several degrees of further additional blindness and darkness: so as that the apostle expresseth the blindness of the Gentiles state, in the abstract instead of the superlative, according to the Hebrew idiom, saying, "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now ye are light in the Lord." (Ephesians 5:8) This then being the real state and condition of man both by nature and contracted error, nothing but the Divine Omnipotence can create and gives the seeing eye, and hearing ear. Again, Fourthly, the state and condition of fallen man, and the manner of his recovery out of the same, are in scripture represented to be like that of a prisoner chained fast, even hand and foot, in a deep pit or prison, and kept under a watchful eye and guard, which can only be freed and delivered by a foreign power, and not by the prisonerís force or skill. Hence one part of Christís special work and office, both in his own personal ministry and that of the gospel, as it is continued in the world, was foretold by the prophet to be, to "proclaim liberty to the prisoners, and the opening of the prison doors to them that are bound," Isaiah 61:1; as it is written, "I the Lord, have called thee in righteousness, and I will hold thine hand and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house." (Isaiah 42:6, 7) Now it is well known that Christ did not deliver such out of the common jails as were by authority committed thither; it is therefore to be interpreted in a gospel sense, of Christís delivering souls out the horrible pit of misery and thralldom, under the power of sin and Satan, as typified out by Israelís thralldom and captivity, both in Egypt and Babylon: and so it is written, "As for thee, (O Messias,) by the blood of the covenant, (says the Father,) I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water." (Zechariah 9:11) Thus David tells us that God brought him "out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay; and set his feet upon a rock, and established his steps." (Psalm 40:2) If any condition may be compared to being cached and shut up in a pit, be sure that of a natural state may; only with this difference, that sin and Satanís prisoners, before conviction, are greatly delighted with their state: this prison is to them a palace; and the cords and chains of sin and darkness by which they are held fast, and retained in the devilís hold, are to them as so many ornaments; and the love of sin, and appetite, or lust he has after iniquity, so far prevail, as that he loveth his chains and bondage, his master and service; the devilís works he will do. This then being his present case and carriage, his sin, guilt, and condemnation, are the more increased, as our Lord declares; "This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. For every one that doeth evil, hateth the light, neither cometh to it, lest his deeds should be reproved." (John 3:19,20) And thus it is, Christ, by the gospel, proclaimeth liberty to captives and prisoners, but they love their thralldom more than true gospel-liberty; they care not for it, nor will they accept it at his hands, till he has changed their minds, and of unwilling made them a willing people in the day of power: so that besides the proclaiming liberty to them, he must, exert his mighty power, both to open the prison doors, and to break their bands, and also to pluck them thence: it is with sinners, before grace has made them spiritually free and willing, as it was with Lot and his wife, Genesis 19:16, 26, who although they were warned of the danger, and bid to get out quickly from the city, that so they might not perish in the overthrow, yet they loitered and lingered: so as that the two angels were obliged to lay hold of them, and pull them out, as partly willing and partly unwilling; and thus the Lord being merciful to them, they brought them out, and set them dear of the city: and as it fared with Lotís wife, so it happeneth to many a one that setteth out, and runneth well for a while; she left her heart and idols behind, and so looking back, no doubt with a desire to return, she died under as severe a stroke as those who staid behind: thus some miserably perish, even after they are in part delivered: forasmuch as instead of hasting to their strong-hold, and fleeing for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before them, they turn aside or return back; as it is written, "They return, but not to the most High: they are like a deceitful (i.e. a warped) bow," Hosea, 7:16.; which, though the archer levels right, always casteth the arrow wide from the mark: and now, that any are drawn out of this horrible pit, so as to be set upon the rock, Christ, and preserved thereon, this is altogether of grace: forasmuch as in all these, God worketh first the will, and then the ability to do of his own good pleasure; and that by his Almighty power.
But then, Fifthly, there are some further representations made in the holy scriptures of manís impotency, and the necessity of an Almighty power on Godís part to be exerted; and this is most excellently and fully set forth by our blessed Lord, by a three-fold parable or similitude, in the 15th of Luke, i.e. the lost piece of silver, the strayed sheep found and fetched home, and the prodigal sonís coming to himself, and returning to his father. Now, not one of these set forth the thing fully, but all three of them do most completely discover what there is of God, and what there is of man, as renewed, in his return to God by conversion and true saving faith. And now, as to the first, the small piece of money being lost first, and then sought for with so much care, pains, and diligence, does most aptly declare and represent our being lost without any act of our own ill the first Adam; and also our being found by another hand, we not contributing any thing there-unto, even as the lost piece could not in the least contribute towards its being found again. The gospel-moral, or doctrine of the parable, is this; the lost piece is an elect sinner; the woman whose it is, though lost, is Wisdom, as in Proverbs, or Messias; the house is the world; the light is the gospel-part of Godís written word; the broom is the ministry or use of the law upon the natural conscience; and the sweeping the house may represent, first Christís reforming both the Jewish church-state and the Pagan world; and, secondly, it may and does represent his sending his Holy Spirit with the ministry of the word, as a Spirit of reproof and conviction, in and upon the hearts of his own elect, at the time of effectual calling, thereby to further and secure their return; in the first part of which, as has already been declared, they are wholly passive, even as we all were in our being lost in the first Adam: and did not God first seek so as to find us effectually by his word and Spirit, we should never seek after him, such is our impotency through the fall-but then, forasmuch as the fallen creature, man, is guilty of an actual revolt and departure, in his going, further off from God by transgression and rebellion; in that the more he calleth them, the further they go off, saying, we are lords over ourselves, we will come no more at thee; therefore this their actual straying and revolt, and the methods taken to secure their return, are set forth and declared to us in the second parable, i.e. the lost sheep; which, from a straggling principle, is ever prompt to go off and stray away from its shepherd, company, fold, and pasture: and there are three or four things to be gathered from this second parable, as the moral or doctrine thereof; as,
1st, That fallen man from a vicious principle or instinct, like the sheep, is subject to stray and straggle out of the enclosure, and beyond the bounds set by the great Shepherd; as-it is written, "All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to our own way: and the Lord hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all." (Isa. 53:6) There being in both sorts of sheep alike propensity to go off from the Shepherd, but not to return: and did not the good Shepherd go after it, and seek it till it is-found, it would be for ever lost. We are here taught, secondly, in this parable, the office and care of the Shepherd who careth for his, flock; he will not lose so much as one, though the least and worst of the whole flock; "he leaveth the ninety nine, and goeth after that which is lost until he find it;" that is, he showeth such regard unto the lost sheep, as that he will leave all other business to go after that which is gone astray, nor will he give over till it is found: and when he has found it, he then layeth it upon his own shoulders, and bringeth it home with joy; which, in the third place, teacheth that the sheep is a self-willed obstinate creature: and as it will never return of itself, so neither will it be driven home by itself, or being: weak and faint, it tireth by the way, and therefore must be carried on the shepherdís back; so here, fallen man can do nothing but go astray, he refuseth to return, as it is written, "as they (i.e. the under-shepherds) called them, so they went from them; they refused to return:" (Hos. 11:2,5) so that neither calling, commanding, nor moral suasion will suffice nor prevail; but he that seeketh up and bringeth in the outcasts of Israel, must lay them upon his shoulder and bring them home by his own mighty power in this his day of efficacious grace; as it is written, "Other sheep I have, them I must bring home." (John 10:16) But then to let us know that although man is passive, and first sought after by his God, the mediator, and that by reason of his weakness and willfulness he must be brought home by an Almighty invincible power, yet, so as that being a reasonable creature, he is made willing in the day of power by the divine energy and persuasion; as it is written, "God shall persuade Japhet, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem." (Gen. 9:27) Therefore, I say, to illustrate this, the third parable is put forth, which represents the sinner by the afore said means, brought to his right mind, upon which he maketh a voluntary return, and findeth mercy and acceptance, and a reception from his Father, far beyond what he asked, or could reasonably expect: and in the whole of the third parable we may learn these three or four things; as first, that no sooner is a sinner laid under convictions, as to his lost miserable perishing state, but he turneth aside to his own inventions, by seeking relief out of Godís way; as it is written, "When Ephraim saw his sickness, and Judah saw his wound, then went Ephraim to the Assyrian, and sent to King Jareb; yet could he not heal you, nor cure you of your wound." (Hos. 5:13) Thus, when the prodigal son, in the parable, was laid under the pressures of penury and pinching hunger, instead of returning by repentance to his Father, he essayed to make provision for himself, thinking to support himself by his own labor and industry; but, alas! there is nothing but husks; the creature is empty, and either cannot be come at, as in the parable, or being come at affords no relief. Empty cisterns, in which is no water to be found. Thus the convinced soul is by degrees famished out of every thing short of the bread of life, and made to hunger and thirst after the true bread which the Father giveth to his children here. Hence, in the second place, the prodigal son in the parable, is said to come to himself, i.e. to his right mind: and so he not only bethinketh himself where help is, but being changed in his mind, he resolved upon a return: and now He being come to himself, thus reasoneth and resolveth; "How many hired servants of my Fatherís have bread enough, and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise, and go to my Father, and will 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." (Luke 15:17-19) Now, thus it is in the conversion of a sinner, he is brought to his right mind; before which he is considered as a lunatic, and must be dealt with accordingly by the Physician of souls in the day of power: and when his heart is renewed, and his mind is changed, then He deliberates with himself rationally, and acteth freely: yet so as that it is faith that sets reason thus at work, both to meditate, resolve, and execute this return; which has a most agreeable success and reception with the Father. And this is manifest in his meeting him at a distance, and entertaining him so cordially, and treating him with the best, as being most welcome to him; however others might grudge it, or be aggrieved there at. The sum of this threefold evidence is, that though the sinnerís return by saving faith and conversion is a free and deliberate act; yet it is the effect of that Almighty power and invincible grace, which by the Holy Spirit, as the efficient, worketh first conviction, then gives the heart or will, and after that the power thus to do; and all of his own good pleasure. And hence it is that we read of the gospel, that it is "the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth, whether it be Jew or Gentile:" (Rom. 1:16) for this word in the Spiritís hand is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword: and the truly converted are said to be pricked to the heart; and to have their hearts opened by the Lord Christ, who has the key of the elect sinnersí heart in his own hand, and will not take their trifling answers or excuses for denials, so as to let all the success be determined by their unsanctified will. No, says he, "Other sheep I have, them I must bring home," i.e. into his gospel-church and fold. (John 10:16) And that this is only the effect of Almighty power, the prophet more than suggests, when he saith; "Who hath believed our report? And to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" (Isa. 53:1) For indeed the gospel-message succeeds upon the soul according to that degree of power manifested by a divine efficiency upon the heart. And, Thus having dispatched this fifth head, as a further argument by divers evidences of the necessity of an exceeding greatness of the Divine power, to be exerted in an invincible efficacious manner upon the heart of an elect sinner in conversion, I shall now pass on to rite next head proposed.