« FöregåendeFortsätt »
version. So the psalmist describes the thoughts of men when surprised with a storm at sea, an instance of which we have in the mariners of Jonah's ship:-and so that Pharaoh, who one day cried, Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?' Being the next day terrified with thunder and lightning, cried out, Intreat the Lord for me, that it may be so no more. And such impressions from divine power most men experience at one time or other.
2.) By personal afflictions. Affliction n aturally speaks anger; and anger respects sin; it is God's messenger to call sin to remembrance. The time of affliction is a time of consideration; and if men are not extremely hardened, they cannot but bethink themselves who sends affliction, and for what end it is sent.
3.) By remarkable deliverances, as it was with Naaman the Syrian. Unexpected relief from imminent dangers deeply affect the minds of men, convincing them of the power and goodness of God; and this produces an acknowledgment of their own unworthiness of what they have received, and some temporary effects of gratitude, and submission to the divine will.
(4.) An observation of the conversation of others, has occasioned many persons to inquire into the causes and end of it; and this inclines them to imitation.
(5.) The preaching or reading of the word of God is the principal means hereof; this the Holy Spirit employs in his entrance upon this work; it is by the law that men are convinced of sin.
Now there is scarcely any of these instances of the care of God over the souls of men, whom he designs to convert, but the holy person whom we have proposed as an example, gives an account of in his own experience, declaring also by what means they were frustrated, and came to nothing. Such were the warnings that God gave him, by the exhortations of his mother; such were those which he had in his own sicknesses, and in the death of his dear friend and companion. And, in all those warnings, he charges their non-improvement to his natural blindness, the corruption of his nature, with the efficacy of bad company, and the course of the world in the places where he lived. But it would be tedious to transcribe the particular accounts he gives of these things, though all of them singularly worthy of consideration
for I must say, that, in my judgment, none of our Divines, ancient or modern, have equalled, much less exceeded him, in an accurate observation of all the secret' actings of the Spirit of God on the minds of men, both towards and in their conversion ;-and scarcely any one hath so traced the way of the serpent, or the working of original sin in the hearts of men, with the efficacy communicated thereto by temptation, or the various occasions of life. The ways also whereby the deceitfulness of sin seeks to elude and frustrate, the work of grace, when it begins to seize the strong-holds of sin in the heart, were wonderfully discovered to him. Nor has any man more expressly displayed the power of victorious grace, with the manner of its operation and prevalence : and all these things, by the guidance of the good Spirit, and attention to the word, are exemplified by his own experience *.
* Neither the character of Augustine, nor the judgment of Dr.Owen concerning him, will be impeached, in the opinion of wise and good men, by the calumnies of the late Mr. Robinson of Cambridge, in his History of Baptism; who seems to have dipped his pen in gall when he wrote that chapter, intitled, Of the Efforts of Augustine to bring in the Baptism of Babes. Augustine,' says he, was not always a saint;' and then proceeds to retail a number of slanderous reports, highly seasoned with his own malicious inuendoes. Mr. Robinson accuses him with promoting doctrines which take away all goodness and justice from God and man; and quotes Mr. Bayle, who, from the very slender authority of some of Augustine's enemies, represents him as a constant hard drinker; though the whole passage in his Confessions, which is partially quoted to justify this infamous charge, is expressly written to prove that drunkenness was never among his vices, even in his unconverted state. (Book 10. chap. 31.) I shall beg leave to express my sentiments of Mr. Robinson's conduct in this matter, in the words of two very respectable persons, Dr. Williams of Rotherham, and the late Rev. Mr. Milner of Hull, in their letters to me on the subject.
-Robinson's character of Augustine is so manifestly uncandid and illiberal, that every intelligent reader must perceive that his own character suffers most by the attempt.-He seems to have been an admirer of Bayle, that prince of sceptical writers; but, in his scurrility and foul treatment of Augustine, he far surpasses his master. Both master and scholar, instead of acknowledging the power of divine grace, in the conversion of this eminent man, proclaim to all what strangers they were to its efficacy. With malignant pleaSure, they dwell on those youthful improprieties of conduct which
In calling men to the saving knowledge of God, the Holy Spirit convinces them of sin. As to the nature of this conviction in general, it consists in fixing the vain mind of a sinner on a due consideration of sin; and in fixing a due sense of sin on the secure mind of the sinner, with affections suited to its apprehensions. The warn
he himself sets in the strongest light, bewailing them with pungent grief, but overlook a life of above forty years laboriously employed in the cause of truth and holiness. Similar efforts have been made on the character of Calvin (the case of Servetus being the ostensible ground) but historical evidence is not yet sufficiently obscured by distance of time to succeed well in this instance. If a man were far abandoned to scepticism, and a determined opposition to the work of the Spirit of God on the human mind, how easy would it be to draw a similar picture to that of Augustine by Robinson, of Mr. William Perkins, of Mr. Richard Baxter, of Colonel Gardner, of Mr. George Whitefield, and, I may add, of St. Paul himself!
Another learned and useful writer, thus expresses himself::
I have seen the foul slander of Augustine, from the writer of th History of Baptism. You need be in no pain about it. I can scarcely conceive what the man could mean. For a year or two, while the Lord was striving with Augustine, he sinned and repented, and staggered backward and forward, as is common with real converts. His Confessions describe what he was before conversion ;-very lewd: and no man was more ready than he to say, By the grace of God I am what I am:' and it is, I had almost said, as easy to find a blot in St. Paul's moral character after conversion, as in Augustine's. I have read a good deal of his writings; and must say, that there every where appear the strongest marks of sincerity, humility, and piety. I hardly know any uninspired writer equal to him in this respect. Allowance must be made for the superstition of the times in which he lived and all candid men will do so But even when you are obliged to differ with him in opinion, you cannot but admire the piety and goodness of Robinson represents him as illiterate; but Dr. Doddridge calls him the learned and pious Augustine.' But why mention him in particular? All antiquity, without a dissenting voice, agree in speaking his praise. His de Civitate Dei, is a marvellous monument of learning and ingenuity: even Gibbon himself says, it was vigorously, and not unskilfully executed. We have Augustine's life written by Possidius, a presbyter who knew him for forty years; and gives the highest commendations of him. Mosheim speaks very handsomely of his genius and piety. Dr. Lardner, a Socinian, speaks every where respectfully of him. Let any man judge them, what regard is to be paid
to Robinson s slanders.
ings before mentioned, are like calls given to man in a profound sleep; he starts and rises up; but oppressed with the power of sleep, he lies down again to rest, as Austin expresses it. But this work of conviction remains, and men cannot disentangle themselves from it.
It is a great work to fix the vain mind of an unregenerate man on a due consideration of sin. The darkness and vanity of his mind divert him from it. We daily see this astonishing vanity in our children, servants, and relations: how difficult, how impossible, to fix their minds on the due consideration of sin !-no arguments nor intreaties can prevail :-and the strong man armed,' employs all his engines to keep his goods in peace, and prevent this work. But the Spirit of God fixes the mind on sin; he reproves men, and sets their sin in order before their eyes; so that which ever way they turn, they are obliged to behold it. So that David says, My sin is ever before me.' Fain would they cast their sins behind their backs, and get rid of the thoughts of them, but 'the arrows of God' stick fast in their minds.
As the mind is hereby fixed on the consideration of sin, so a sense of sin must also be fixed on the mind, that is, on the conscience. A bare contemplation of sin is of little use. The Scripture places this work of conviction principally in a sense of sin, in trouble, sorrow, fear of ruin, and the like. Now the Holy Ghost is the efficient cause of all this. He alone makes all means effectual to this. purpose; for without his immediate influence, we may hear the law (by which is the knowledge of sin) preached all our lives, and not be once affected with it.
By the way, it well deserves our observation, that God in his holy providence, remarkably over-rules the outward affairs of those whom he designs to call, in a manner conducive to that end. Their inclinations and schemes, or even the disappointment of them; the places of their abode; their relation and connexions in life, shall all subserve this vast great design. So, particularly, Austin abounds in his contemplation on the providence of God, in carrying him from Carthage to Rome, and from thence to Milan, where he heard Ambrose preach; which proved the means of his conversion. And, in his whole discourse, he excellently shews on the one hand, the variety of his own projects, which were often perverse; and on the other, the
constant guidance of Divine Providence, working powerfully through all occurrences towards the blessed end designed for him. Thou (saith he) who art my hope in the land of the living, that I might remove from one country to another, for the salvation of my soul, didst both apply goads unto me at Carthage, whereby I might be driven from thence, and didst propose allurements unto me at Rome, whereby I might be drawn thither; and this thou didst by men who loved the dead life in sin; here, doing things outrageous; there, promising things desirable to vain minds, whilst thou, to correct and reform my ways, didst secretly make use of their frowardness and mine.'
It must be granted that many persons lose all the efficacy of these impressions, and become more profligate in sin than ever. So Austin declares, that, after many stifled convictions, he grew so obdurate, that in a fever, when he thought he should die and go to Hell, he had not that desire for mercy and deliverance which he found many years before in lesser dangers. And this perverse effect is occasioned by various means. In most, it is the effect of the power of their own lusts; for these being only checked, not subdued, they gain strength by restraint, and overflow all convictions. One day they seem to lie in Hell, by the terror of convictions; and the next to be hastening towards it by their sins. But this apostacy is often promoted by others; for instance, by such as undertake to be spiritual guides, and to teach men what they never learned, heal their wounds slightly, or turn them out of the way. So it happened to Austin, who, beginning to seek the Lord, fell into the society and heresy of the Manichees, which frustrated all his convictions. Others are hurt by their vain companions, who directly endeavour, with the utmost importunity and shew of friendship, to draw them back into the world. Thus, the same person declares, with what earnestness some of his companions endeavoured to draw him to the plays and spectacles at Rome. Besides, the awe that is on the minds of men in their convictions, is apt to wear off, when the soul is a little accustomed to it, and yet sees no evil actually ensue.
In some, the Holy Spirit is pleased to carry on this k of conviction to a blessed issue. In this case there