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What is true of Religious Education, is also true of all the Means of Grace, which I have specified. Public Worship is plainly formed, with a particular design to affect the heart of man by those truths, which are taught in the house of God. The Day, the Place, the Occasion, are all in the highest degree solemn and interesting. The numbers, united in the worship, necessarily communicate, and receive, the strong feelings of sympathy; and regard the subjects of instruction with emotions, widely different from those, which would be experienced in solitude. The nature 26 of the Ordinances is also in a singular degree solemn, awful, and the affecting. In a word, every thing, pertaining to the subject, is in 529 the happiest manner fitted to move the mind, and deeply to en- Ed stamp on it the truths of the Gospel.
Prayer, in the like manner, is eminently fitted to teach, and not ! only to teach, but to make us fecl, the various doctrines of Religion. Prayer, in every form, is a servicc, peculiarly impressive. Fing In the Church, in the Family, and in the Closet, it is attended by pre-eminent advantages. When we retire to our closets, and shut The door on the world, and all it contains; and pray to our Father, who is in secret; we are withdrawn from all external things; are fixed on our own concerns; our guilt, our danger, our helplessness, our dependence on God alone for hope, sanctification, and deliverance; and our absolute necessity of being interested in Christ, as the only cxpiation for sin, and the only safety to man. We bring God before us, face to face; and see, eye to eye. The awful and transcendent character of ihis Great and Glorious Be. ing rises up to our view in a manner, resembling that, in which the Israelites contemplated it at the foot, or Moses on the summit, of Mount Sinai. The nearness of the Judgment is realized with singular force, and the approach of the final Recompense, anticipated with profound awe, and most salutary apprehension.
Among the things, which, in the attempts to perform this duty, are deeply impressed on the soul of the sinner, his own Inability to pray, in a manner acceptable to God, is one of the most important and affecting. No sinner realizes this truth, before he has made the attempt in earnest. Nor does any thing appear to lay low the pride, and annihilate the self-righteousness, of the human heart in the same effectual manner. When he attempts to pray, and in the very act of attempting it, finds clear and practical proof, that his prayers are selfish, cold, and heartless ; he first begins to feel, in a useful manner, his absolute dependence on God for every good disposition. Prayer is naturally the last hope, the last consolation, of man. So long as we can ask for Mercy, we never feel entirely unsafe. But when the soul becomes satisfied, by actual trial, that its prayers are such, as itself condemns; it becomes also satisfied, that its only ultimate dependence is on the mere Mercy of God.
Prayer also, in the same effectual manner, opens to the view of the soul, with peculiar power, its whole moral state ; its guilt its exposure, and its ruin. All these things, when brought up to view in its converse with God, in making them the subjects of its own confessions and requests, and in revolving them with the most solemn and interesting meditation, all enhanced by a realizing sense of the presence of God, are felt by the soul with a peculiar energy, usually followed by happy effects.
Each of the other Means of Grace, which I have specified, has its own, and that a very desirable, power of affecting the heart. We are so formed, as to be capable of deep impressions in various ways, and from many different sources. Each way has its peculiar efficacy; and every source is copious in its influence on the mind.
The great objects, concerning which these impressions are especially needed, and are actually made, are the guilt and danger of sin; the glorious mercy of God in redeeming, sanctifying, and forgiving sinners; the absolute dependence of the soul on Him for all good, both natural and moral; and his willingness to communicate both through Jesus Christ. These united, and thoroughly understood, constitute those views, and awaken those emouons, which, together, are commonly styled Convictions of Conscience; or, to speak perhaps with more precision, that awakened state of the Conscience, which usually precedes Regeneration; and which, in the ordinary course of God's providence, seems indispensable to its existence. Converse with as many religious men, as you please, concerning this subject; and every one of them will declare, that he has passed through a state of mind, substantially of this nature ; and will inform you, that it anteceded every hope of reconciliation to God, and every exercise, which he has believed to be genuine religion in itself. Such, then, may be deemed one of the laws of the moral or spiritual kingdom: a law, which appears to be formed with supreme wisdom, and with supreme benevolence to the sinner. · If he were never to entertain such a sense of sin; if he were never to have such apprehensions of his danger; if he were never thus to feel his dependence on his Maker; he could not, I think, form any just views of the nature, or greatness, of his deliverance; nor of the goodness of God in rescuing him from destruction, sanctifying his soul, and blotting out his transgressions; nor of the importance, or excellence, of that holiness, with which he is endued; nor of the nature and glory of that happiness, to which he will gain a final admission. In a word, it seems indispensable, that such a state of mind should precede his regeneration, in order to enable him, throughout all his future being, to understand what God has done for him, and to feel the gratitude, actually felt by the minds, and joyfully expressed in the praises, of the first-born.
Some persons, when considering this subject, appear to fee. as if regeneration could not be absolutely aitributed to the Spirit of Truth, unless it was accomplished, altogether, without the em ployment of Means. But this opinion is plainly erroneous. The very Means themselves are furnished entirely by this Divine Agent. When furnished, all of them, united, would prove wholly insufficient without his Creative influence. No man, in his sober senses, ever mistrusted, that ploughing and sowing, rain and sunshine, would produce wheat. The Almighty Power of God, after all these things have operated to the utmost, is absolutely necessary even to the germination of the seed, and still more obviously to the perfection of the plant. In the same manner, whatever means may be employed in bringing man from sin to holiness, and whatever may be their influence, the Creative power of the Divine Spirit is absolutely necessary to accomplish his renovation. All that can be truly said, in this case, is, that this Glorious Person operates in one manner, and not in another.
The human soul is not regenerated in the same manner with that, in which the dust of the ground was originally made into a human body. In this case, a mere act of Divine power, unconnected with every thing else, accomplished the effect. But, before renewing man, God is pleased in the usual course of his Spiritual providence, to instruct him, to alarm, to invite, to promise, and to persuade. To prove the usefulness of these means, nothing more seems necessary, than to observe, that they always precede, or attend, our renovation : that is, always in the usual course of providence. It is the soul, which is thus taught, alarmed, and allured, upon which descends the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit; and not the soul, uninstructed, unawakened, thoughtless of its guilt, and devoted only to the pursuit of sensual objects. The whole history of experimental religion, both within and without the Scriptures, is, unless I am deceived, a complete confirmation of this truth.
But to the existence of this state of the soul, the Means of Grace, as I have described them, and their influence, appear to be indispensable. By the Instructions, which they communicate on the one hand, and the Impressions, which they make on the other, concerning spiritual objects, they appear, whenever employed with seriousness, fervour, and perseverance, to bring the soul into this interesting and profitable situation. It is, I conceive, with reference to this fact, that God says, Is not my word as the fire, and as the hammer, that breaketh the rock in pieces? With reference to this fact, Christ says, that his words are spirit and life; and that they will make men free from the bondage of corruption. With the same reference, Paul declares the Gospel to be the Power of God unto salvation; and the Word of God to be quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword. From this power of the Gospel was derived the fact, that the Jews, who crucified Christ, were in such numbers pricked in the heart by the preaching of St. Peler, and cried out, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
All the efficacy, which I have attributed to the Means of Grace, does not, I acknowledge, amount to regeneration, nor ensure it. But it amounts to what St. Paul terms planting and watering. The increase must be, and still is, given by God only. In the same manner, God must create the grain : or the husbandman, after all his ploughing and sowing, after all the rain and the sunshine, will never find a crop. Still, these are indispensable means of his crop; so indispensable, that without them, the crop would never exist. As truly, in the ordinary course of providence, there will, without the use of the Means of Grace, be no spiritual harvest. There will be no Instructions given; no Impressions made; and no realizing convictions of guilt, danger, and dependence, produced: and without these, there will be no regeneration of the soul, and no title obtained lo eternal life.
THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE.OBJECTIONS ANSWERED.
1 CORINTHIANS iv. 15.–For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet
have ye nol many fathers; for in Christ Jesus have I begollen you through the Gospel.
In the first discourse, from these words, I proposed,
IV. To answer the principal Objections lo this scheme of doctrine.
The three first of these subjects have been already discussed. I shall now,
IV. Answer the principal Objections to this scheme of doctrine.
These, as they are customarily alleged, may be considered as chiefly made to two practical inferences, which I shall derive from the two preceding discourses.
1. It follows from the observations, made in these discourses, that the Means of Grace ought to be used by Sinners ; and by Christians, for the purpose of promoting the salvation of Sinners.
If there are Means of grace and salvation, given by God; then they were given for the very purpose of promoting the salvation of sinners. As this was the end, which God proposed in communicating them to mankind; it is an end, in which all men are bound to rejoice, and which they are plainly obligated to pursue. But unless these means are used by Sinners for their own salvation, they will ordinarily be of no benefit to them: and, unless Christians use them, also, for the purpose of promoting the salvation of sinners, they will fail of their intended effect. Christian Ministers must preach the Gospel to sinners. Christian Parents must educate their sinful children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Christians must live, and act, and converse, with sinners. Otherwise, the salvation of sinners will usually be neglected, and there. fore will be unattained.
Further; if there are Means of Grace, then the appointment of them is wise; the communication of them to mankind, benevolent; and the use of them by those, for whom they were appointed, proper. It can hardly be supposed, that God has provided, and published, means of salvation to mankind, and yet by his own authority made it improper, that they should be used. According to this scheme, sinners, although expressly commanded to fee from