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APPLICATION. Is there an allowed boldness in coming to the throne of grace? Then let us use this boldness. Alas ! many come doubtingly and discouragedly. Their unbelief is so strong, and their faith so weak, that they not only come without this boldness, but think that they ought not to come with it, but with a frame contrary to it. They think, that it is true humility, to come with a fear, that is inconsistent with this boldness. It is indeed required, that men should come before the Lord with awful fear and reverence, and that they should judge themselves unworthy and undeserving, both of the privilege of coming, and of the least of the blessings they come for. Yet the boldness of faith is not prejudiced thereby. I shall therefore answer some of the common pleas of unbelief, as to this privilege, and its improvement.
Object. 1. Is from conscience of sin and guilt, grounded specially on these two scriptures, Psal. Ixvi. 18. and. 1 John iii. 20. This plea seems to be strong, and to justify or excuse doubtinga in Christians; and doth usually mar the due sense of this duty, of coming boldly to the throne of grace. To remove it therefore, consider, that sin affects the heart and conscience two ways. 1. It defiles the conscience. 2. It disturbs it.
1. Sin defiles the conscience : Tit. i. 15. Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled, and unbelieving, is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
But we must see when and how the conscience is defiled by sin. Conscience is God's tribunal in every man.
It is an active and awful power in men, judging of themselves, as to their state and actions, as they think God judgeth of them. So that there are two main causes tried, and to be decided, at this court of conscience.
1. Am I at peace with God, and he with me? And this is only truly resolved, when conscience pronounceth as God declares in his word. And that declaration is, That every man by nature, and as in the first Adam, is an enemy to God, and God to him; and that every one that is in Jesus Christ by faith, is a child and friend of God, and God is at peace with him. The answer then is different, if according to truth. Some may, but will not conclude their state of enmity, by their not believing on Jesus Christ ; some may, but dare not conclude, that they are at peace with God,
though they cannot deny their faith in Jesus Christ. 2. A second cause is about particular actions : and the question then is, Is this, or that, or the other action, pleasing or displeasing to God? And this is to be determined by the light of conscience, acting according to God's holy law. For God is the only Lord of conscience, and his will the only rule and law of conscience. Conscience therefore may be three ways defiled.
Ist, By the unpardoned guilt of a natural state, as it is in all unbelievers. Nothing can purge the conscience, but the blood of Christ, Heb. ix. 14. An unbeliever doth not apply to it, nor apply it to himself, and God applies it to none but by faith. Therefore all such unbelievers have all the lothsome filth of their natural state lying on their consciences, defiling it. The answer of a good conscience towards God, is by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. iii. 21. All unbelievers consciences can speak nothing towards God, by any thing Christ hath done or suffered; for they know him not, and are not in him. They would give an answer, or make their plea, from their good works and honest meanings. But all such answers and pleas are rejected by God, in his judging of a man's state. For all God's judgments of men's state proceeds on these two, in Christ, or out of Christ. And as it is with them with respect to one or other of these two, so do men stand or fall before God's judgment, whatever the judgment of their consciences be.
2dly, Conscience is defiled by sinful actions, known to be such. Now, if these be loved, and delighted in, they do justly mar confidence; neither can any man in this case draw near to God, but with the mouth, and hypocritically, Isa. xxix. 13. This is a frame not to be found in a believer. He may be guilty of known sin, but it is not delighted in. To this David's words refer, Psal. Ixvi. 18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. It is not, If there be iniquity in my heart; for who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? Prov. xx. It is not, if I see iniquity in my heart; for where there is least sin, it is best seen. Paul saw enough, Rom. vii. 23, 24, 25. and groaned under it; and yet blesseth God through Jesus Christ for the hope of victory. But it is only, if I regard iniquity in my heart, (if I look kindly
on it), God will not hear me. And indeed the man in this case cannot pray. It is as impossible that a person approving and loving sin, can make a real approach to God, as it is for a man to depart from, and approach to one, at the same time, and with the same motion,
3dly, The conscience is defiled by doubtful practice. Of this the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. viii. 7. And their conscience being weak, is defiled. To this belong also the words in Rom. xiv. 5. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind; and ver. 22, 23. Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin. In deliberate actions, especially of worship to God, to act without a clear warrant from the word of God, defileth the conscience.
2. Sin disturbes the conscience. And conscience is disturbed by sin, two ways. Ist, When the evil and filth of sin is seen, a man lothes himself therefore. - No defilement on the conscience disturbs it, till it be seen. Men like swine wallow in the puddle, and see no filth therein, till God open the eyes of their consciences. 2dly, When the danger of sin is seen, and the wrath it deserves is perceived, then perplexing fears, and sensible sorrow, work in the soul. Now, what is the course such a poor creature should take? The sin is committed, the guilt is contracted, the conscience is defiled, the de filement is seen, disturbance and trouble is felt in the conscience; what should such a sick soul do? Will any say to him, Wash thyself where thou canst, and cast away the burden of thy sin the best way thou canst, and then come to the throne of grace? This would be strange gospel indeed. We know no other course a man should take in this case, but coming to the throne of grace, to have the conscience sprinkled with the blood of Christ, the only cordial for a disturbed conscience, and the only purger of a defiled conscience. Therefore Peter was quite out in his prayer; he prayed backward, when he said, Deport from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord, Luke iv.18. Were ever those words uttered at the knees of Jesus Christ? He had said better, if he had prayed, “ Lord, come near “ to me, and abide with me, and let me ever abide with thee : « for I am a sinful man. Where can a sinful man be better, u than with the Saviour of sinners?” But Peter's prayer is the natural prayer of every man that seeth his sinfulness, and
is ignorant of Jesus Christ. The publican understood prayer, and plied it better, Luke xviii. 13. when he said, God be mera ciful to me a sinner. “I feel my sinfulness, I see thy mercy, " Lord, let them meet; and thy mercy shall be glorified, and " I saved.” Whoever therefore are distressed with the guilt of sin in their consciences, or with the power of it in their hearts and lives, must seek all their relief at this throne of grace. It is only the power of that grace revealed and dispensed at this throne of grace, that is too hard for sin, and all its powers. And for any man to think to subdue sin, except by the power of this grace ; or to think that he shall have this powerful grace, without coming for it to the throne of
grace, is to dream to his own destruction.
Object. 2. I am in the dark about my interest in God and Christ, and therefore I cannot come boldly to this throne. If I did know that God was at peace with me, and I reconciled to him, and justified, then I might come boldly.
Ans. 1. Whose fault is it, that thy interest in Christ is not put out of question? Were Christians more in self-examination, more close in walking with God; and if they had more near communion with God, and were more in acting of faith, this shameful darkness and doubting would quickly vanish. It is a thing to be heavily bewailed, that many Christians have lived twenty or forty years, since Christ called them by his grace, yet doubting is their life ; they doubted when they began, they go on doubting, and many die doubting, when the blame is justly to be laid on themselves. There is an assurance of faith, that is a duty, as well as a blessing, Heb. x. 22. And were it more minded as a duty, it would be more often attained as a mercy. That assurance of faith I press you to have, stands in firm and strong believing. The faithful promise of Christ in the gospel, is the foundation of it. And the ground will bear all the weight we can lay on it. This assurance is not only a blessing that comes down from heaven, but it may, by his blessing of means, spring up out of the soul; I mean, it may spring out of the lively vigorous actings of faith. The great believers we read of in the word, the confidence of their faith rose up to that height and strength that we admire, from a clear persuasion of the truth of the
promises, and of the faithfulness of the maker of them. So it is said of Abraham, Rom. iv. 20, 21. He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And lest any should think, that because the man was singular, and the case singular, therefore ordinary believers may only wonder at it, and not attempt to imitate it; the apostle adds, ver. 23, 24. Now it was not written (in Gen. xv. 6.) for his sake alone ; but for us also, &c. As if the apostle had said, “ You see what u ground Abraham had for his faith ; how strongly he built
upon it, and how pleasing that was to God. You have the « same ground; build ye also upon it by faith, and that faith « in you will be as pleasing to God.” Abraham had God's promise to build upon. In this promise there was its outward part
and external. And this was an offspring of his body by Sarah, and the land of Canaan for an inheritance. The spiritual and main thing in the promise, was Jesus Christ the Saviour, and the blessing of eternal salvation in him. This was Abraham's gospel : Gal. iii, 8, 9. And the scriptures foreseeing (that is the author of the scriptures foreseeing, that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached the gospel before unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith, are blessed with faithful Abraham. His gospel and promise was of Christ to come, and of salvation by him. Ours is the promise of salvation in Christ come already delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification, Rom. iv. 25.; that is, imprisoned for our debt, and set at liberty for our discharge. Now, consider, how Abraham improved this promise. He had nothing else in his eye, he would consider nothing, but the promise, and the faithful and mighty promiser. So must we. When we give place to considering of ourselves, our sinfulness and unworthiness; when we consider the greatness of the blessings in the promise, how far they are beyond our deserving, how many things there be that do make it incredible to reason that we should ever receive, or that God should ever give such great things to us, faith must be at a stand. It is as wcredible to an awakened conscience, that God should jus:ify a sinner, as it was to rea