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Let us now make some improvement, of what hath been said upon this subject, for your instruction and direction.
1. I would improve what has been said on this subject, for discovering the danger of many among us, who have never yet been brought to a just sense of their character and state. Even the general belief, that such often have in the scriptures, may shew them what they have to fear. I might no doubt first of all observe, how very guilty and miserable those are, who are most notorious for sins, of the groffest and most shameful kind. But my subject leads me more directly to consider, who are in general, unrenewed, than to mark the several degrees of guilt in particular finners. From the text therefore, and the illustration of it, I am authorized to declare to you, and I beseech you to hear it with application ; that all such as were never brought to a real discovery, and inward fenfe of their miserable condition by nature, are still in a state of wrath, and tirangers to the power of religion, whatever may be their profession, and whatever may be their pre
Oh! how easy is it, to lay asleep a natural conscience, and to keep a deceitful corrupt heart in a ftate of ease and security ? Some formality in outward duty, some moderation in fin, so to speak, the natural decay and weakness of human paslions, or youthful lusts, in a character formed by human prudence, and regulated by health, credit or gain, is often made to supply the place of a heart renewed by the spirit and grace of God. But consider, I beseech you, that though some may be ten-fold more the children of the devil than others, yet all by nature, are the servants of sin; and " except a man “ be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”It is not only such as are profane, or unclean ; such as riot in brutish sensuality ; such as are the plagues of human society ; who live in brawls and contention ; but all, in whom an eflential change has never been wrought, that are thus concluded under condemnation.
It is ufual for men to take encouragement, from feeing others worse than themselves; and to consider all the tlırcatenings in fcripture, as levelled against the chief and
capital offenders; but my text is chiefly directed to such as say they are " rich, and increased with goods.” Can you say then, my brethren, that you have been brought under genuine convictions of sin ? Have you been obliged to fall down prostrate before God, when sitting upon the throne of his holiness? Have you found the sentence of death in yourselves, and discovered no remedy but in Christ? If this has never been your case, you have reason to fear, that you are yet“ in the gall of bitterness, and in “ the bond of iniquity.”
But I must tell you also, that this is matter of feeling more than of profession. It is not enough to speak honorably of Christ, or of his works. Many do so, who ne. ver felt their necessity, or seriously and in good earnest applied to him. It were a happy thing, if all among our hearers, who call for evangelical preaching, who quarrel with us when they think we do not preach the Saviour's cross—the lost state of man, and the doctrine of free grace, were experimentally acquainted with these truths. Many such have only been accustomed to hear the Redeemer fpoken of with reverence. They may be able to imitate the language of some of his servants, though they know very little of that brokenness of spirit, which accompanies true repentance.
But lest this should be in any measure mistaken, I must make these two observations—the first is, that a lively fense and deep conviction of fin, is, properly speaking, but a negative mark of true religion; giving us to know, that the unhumbled are yet impenitent. For it is certain, that many have been under very strong convictions, nay, have been driven to the very borders of despair with terror, who yet never were effectually changed, but stifled their convictions, and returned to their former security of heart, and carelessness of life.
Secondly, there may be fome on the other hand, who are truly born of God, in whom the terrors of conviction have not been very remarkable. This happens most frequently in the case of those, who are called in their infan. cy, or earlier years, and who have had the advantage of a careful, and pious education. It would be destructive of the comforts of God's children to lay down one method, in which he always proceeds. He is free and sovereign, in the manner of his dealing with finners; and softens some hearts by kindness, as well as others by correction. So that if the end be brought about, we need be less solicitous about the steps of his procedure. Yet I think humility of fpirit is inseparable from real religion; and if it be less visible in the anguish of repentance, it will be still mani. fest in the temper of the penitent.
II. Let me now, for the improvement of this subject, lay down a few of the best and most folid evidences of genuine conviction of fin. And,
1. It is a good lign that conviction is genuine; when there is a clear and deep apprehension of the evil of fin, as well as the danger of it. When the mind dwells not only on the atrocity of particular crimes, but on the aggravation of all fin, as such : When the finner is truly offended with himself, for departing from his Maker's service; breaking his holy laws; forgetting or despising his innumerable mercies. . There may be, and there is often an apprehension of suffering when there is little sense of the evil of fin: but the conviction is then genuine, when it makes the finner not only remember what he has done, but confess what be bas deserved.
2. It is a good evidence, when the sense of the evil of sin abides and grows, even though the fear of wrath may in a great measure have abated,
It is observable, that conviction of fin usually takes its rise from some grofs or heinous acts, which first alarm the conscience, and in fuch a situation the attention of the penitent is fixed on nothing else but the enormities of his life. If this view continues, and produces its effects, he is foon brought to see and confess the inherent vanity of his heart; the worldliness of his affections; and the unprofitableness of his conversation. It is a very common thing for persons who feem to have some sense of the commiflion of crimes, to have little or no sense at all of the neglect of duty, and of living daily to themselves. It was a heavy charge, however, brought by the propliet against Belshazzar : " And the God in whose hand thy “breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glo" rified.” Wherever there is true repentance, though there may be the greatest peace of mind, there will be also a deep and growing sense of the evil of fin, and the obligation of being habitually devoted to God.
3. It is a good evidence, when there is a continued and growing esteem of the necessity and value of the me. diation of Christ. It was to save finners that he came. A sense of fin is necessary to our receiving him ; and in proportion to its strength will certainly be our attachment to him. This indeed, is the great and vital principle of the spiritual life-"I am crucified with Christ, neverthe" less I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the “ life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of “the Son of God; who loved me, and gave himself to " die for me.”
4. The best and furest mark of real conviction of fin, is, if it leaves you possessed of a deep hatred and abhor. rence of it, and a daily folicitude to fy from it. Some may counterfeit a sense of the evil of sin to their own hearts; may have a real fear of its bitter consequences ; and even a presumptuous reliance on Christ for pardon ; and yet may, in some instances, adhere to the practice of it.
Floods of tears from fuch a person, avail nothing : but he hath certainly truly sorrowed for fin, who in his practice forfakes it; that is to say, he is not willingly subject to any known sin—but says with Elihu, “ That which I *s see not teach thou me: If I have done iniquity, I will
do no more."
III. Let me beseech all serious persons, to improve this subject for the trial of their state. Examine, by the prin. ciples above laid down, the reality, and the progress of re: ligion in your souls. Have you a growing sense of the evil of fin, and of your own unworthiness?- This is at once an evidence, and a mean of growth in grace. He that thinks least of himself is highest in God's account; and the more a believer increases in holiness and real worth, the more he increases in humility. As it is an evidence, it is also a mean, of further improvement; for he that hath the deepest sense of his unworthiness and weakness, will certainly live most by faith on the merit and grace of his Redeemer.
Therefore, Christians, try yourselves by this important fign. Whether do you, by religious duties, 'build yourfelves up on felf-righteousness, or do you only learn by them, how far you fall short of what is incumbent on you? What innumerable evils compass you about ? and there. fore how much you have need of mercy instead of reward? Do you look upon the works of righteousness which you have done, as something, by which you merit at the hand of God; or do you look upon them, as the evidence of his own work in you, and for you, and give him the glory, to whom it is due ?
IV. I shall now conclude the whole, with a few directions for producing and preserving this profitable fense and conviction of fin. And,
1. Let me beg of every hearer, the serious confideration' of him?elf and his ways. Many have no sense of their finfulness, because they have no knowledge of them. selves at all; but go through the world in uninterrupted thoughtlessness and unconcern. Is there any thing of greater moment than the state of your minds, and your hope towards God? Inattention is perhaps a more universal cause of impiety, than high handed and obstinate profanity. Would you but seriously consider your ways, and lay to heart the things that belong to your peace, I would count it a hopeful circumstance; and expect, you would speedily see your danger, and God in his mercy would lead you to the cure.
2. Give yourselves much to reading, and hearing the word of God, The entrance of his word giveth light. It is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, and correction : but it is particularly necessary for conviction ; for by the law is the knowledge of fin. What wonder, if those who never open a bible, and seldom enter into the house of God, should be ignorant of their guilt and misery? The