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I. Describe the subjects of special grace.
II. Show what is implied in their professing religion, or entering into covenant with God; and,
III. Show why they will choose to join the church, and enter into covenant with God.
I. I am to describe the subjects of special grace. We often speak of the common and special influence of the divine Spirit. The most thoughtless, stupid, unawakened sinners are the subjects of the common influence of the divine Spirit. It was by his common influence, that he strove with the old world before they were overthrown and destroyed. It was by his common influence, that he strove with the sinners in Zion in the days of their deep declension. And it is by his common influence, that he now strives with sinners in general. There are scarcely any sinners, but what are, more or less, the subjects of the common influence of the Spirit. He often restrains, reproves and condemns them, by various means on various occasions. Almost every Sabbath, and even every day, he awakens some momentary fear or conviction in their minds. But these common momentary alarms make no abiding impressions on their minds, because they are able to resist such weak and momentary strivings of the Spirit. And though he sometimes strives more powerfully and constantly, yet so long as he does not produce any radical or essential change in the nature of their moral exercises, they continue to resist and stifle convictions, and maintain their enmity, opposition and selfishness. The common influence of the Spirit never produces the least degree of grace in the heart. This has always appeared, when God has poured the largest effusions of the Spirit. Multitudes were awakened under John the Baptist's preaching, under Christ's preaching, and under the apostles' preaching, who never repented, and embraced and professed the gospel. They were the subjects of only the common influence of the Spirit, which produced no saving change in their hearts. But when God operates by his special influence, he not only awakens and convinces sinners, but slays the enmity of their hearts, by producing new and holy exercises, and turning them from selfishness to pure, disinterested love to God. The subjects of his special grace become new creatures. Their stony heart is taken away, and a new heart is given them. They become new creatures. Old things pass away and all things become new. They love God whom they hated, and hate sin which they loved. They renounce the things of the world, the men of the world, and ihe spirit of the world. They experience the fruits of the Spirit; which are love, joy, peace, gentleness, faith, meekness, and every holy and virtuous affec
tion. Such are the characters of true converts, or the subjects of special, saving grace. I now proceed to show,
II. What is implied in their professing religion, or entering into covenant to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. They are represented, in the text, as making a public profession of religion, and ratifying their profession by subscribing a covenant, or some solemn obligation to fulfil their engagements to the Lord. The public profession of religion under the Mosaic dispensation was a covenant transaction, in which God and his people mutually stipulated to perform certain conditions. The people stipulated to love God with all the heart, and to obey all his commands. They avouched him to be their God, or solemnly declared themselves to be the Lord's; and he avouched them to be his people, and engaged to be their God. This mutual stipulation was considered and called an oath. The people are represented as swearing unto the Lord, and he as confirming the immutability of his promise by an oath, which it was impossible for him to violate. Though covenanting with God, at this day, is not attended with the same circumstances that attended covenanting with God under the law, yet it is essentially the same, and creates a bond or obligation equally and mutually binding. Those who now make a public profession of religion, consecrate themselves and all that they have to God, and solemnly engage to take his word as the standard of their faith and practice, and at the same time call themselves christians, and virtually, if not literally, subscribe with their own hands to walk in universal obedience to the divine laws and ordinances. It is said that the primitive christians gave themselves to the Lord, and professed a good profession before many witnesses. They professed godliness, which was a good profession, and contained every thing implied in vital piety. In this public and solemn transaction, they appealed to God and man to witness the truth and sincerity of their profession, which was tantamount to a solemn oath. Such is the proper nature and solemnity of making a public profession of religion, and entering into covenant with God at this day. It now remains to show,
III. Why the subjects of special grace choose to join the church and enter into covenant with God. The prophet represents young converts as spontaneously choosing to make a public profession of religion, and to bind themselves to be the Lord's. They choose to make it known that they belong to the people of God, and to put themselves under the bond of the covenant to walk in the way of his commandments. This has been generally found by observation and experience to be the happy fruit and effect of a saving change or sound conversion. The question now before us is, Why do such young converts spontaneously desire and choose to join the church, and lay themselves under covenant vows and obligations to live in universal and persevering obedience to the whole will of God? There is a variety of weighty and powerful reasons for their freely and voluntarily binding themselves to be the Lord's. In particular,
1. They love the commands of God. A change of heart always produces love to the law of God, or it rather consists in love to the divine law, which is a condition of the covenant of grace. So the apostle says in the eighth of Hebrews. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Paul said, “ I delight in the law of God after the inward man." And David said, “O how love I thy law.” As soon as the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, it never fails to produce love to his law. And those who love his law, choose to obey it, and to bind themselves to obey it for ever. This was exemplified in the views nd conduct of the converts that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. “ In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together; going and weeping, they shall go and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.” The subjects of special grace have had their enmity to the divine law slain, and of course love that law which they hated, and choose to love and obey it for ever; which is one good reason why they choose to join themselves to the Lord and to his people.
2. They love the ordinances as well as the law of God. They love religion, and all the instituted duties of it, which they once neglected and despised. They love to draw near to God in secret and social prayer, and in his public worship in his house. And for the same reason, they desire to commemorate the death of their divine Redeemer according to his dying command, “ This do in remembrance of me." Though this be an appropriate duty of the subjects of grace, yet they have no right to attend upon this special ordinance, before they profess Christ before men, and bind themselves to walk with his friends in obedience to his commands, by a solemn and perpetual covenant. The positive and instituted duties of religion are calculated and designed for the benefit of the cordial friends of Christ; and as soon as any become his friends, they sincerely desire to name his name, and join with his followers in celebrating his special ordinances. This was the case of those who were converted on the day of Pentecost. We read, “ Then they that gladly received his word, were baptized ; and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." " And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” The same desire to join with the people of God, and to partake of the holy sacrament, is a common effect which flows from the special effusions of the divine Spirit. Young converts never fail to flock to Christ as doves to their windows. They spontaneously desire to join the church, and to bind themselves to walk in all the ordinances of the Lord.
3. The subjects of special grace choose to join the church, because their hearts are united to christians. Though they once despised and avoided christians, yet as soon as they possess the spirit of Christ, they feel a peculiar complacency towards his friends, and delight to unite with them in the duties of religion, and in their attendance on divine ordinances. Those who were converted on the day of Pentecost, were of one heart and of one soul, and united and continued together in social worship, and the celebration of divine ordinances. The subjects of special grace possess a spirit of mutual brotherly love. They love as brethren, and discern a peculiar beauty and excellence in all that love the Lord. This Christian union and affection is not momentary, but permanent and universal. It extends to all who appear to be the subjects of special grace. David loved, esteemed and delighted in the saints, as the excellent of the earth. The apostle John says, “ We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Love to christians is commonly one of the first sensible effects of a saving change, and of the peculiar evidences of it, without which, the same apostle says, no other evidence is to be relied on; " for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen ?" As all the subjects of special grace sincerely love the church composed of the subjects of grace, so they naturally desire to join the church, and maintain a spiritual union and communion with the church in all gospel ordinances.
4. Those who possess the grace of God in truth, desire to promote his cause and interest in the world. They ardently desire that his cause may prevail, and his kingdom may grow and flourish, and fill the earth. And they desire to be workers together with him in building up his kingdom, and for this reason wish to put themselves in the best situation, and under the strongest obligations to promote the cause of truth and the prosperity of Zion. David calls upon the friends of God to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and declares with respect to himself, “ If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." Though young converts may do something to promote the cause of God, before they make a public profession of religion, yet by making a public profession of their faith and love, they can do much more to promote his cause, and lay themselves under stronger obligations to do it. Their profession gives them a greater freedom, and creates a greater obligation to speak and act for God and the good of their fellow men. Besides, by joining the church, they increase their number, strengthen their hands, cement their union, and augment their zeal and resolution to promote virtue and piety, and to suppress every thing that obstructs the salutary effects of divine truth and divine ordinances. Young converts have good ground to expect that they shall derive these great advantages and opportunities of doing good, by joining the church; and therefore they wish to name the name of Christ, that they may be better able to promote his cause and kingdom. They ought to be more concerned to do good than to get good, by professing religion and binding themselves to promote it. But the great enemy of God and religion often tries all his artifice, to prevent them from uniting with its friends to do good, by exciting in their minds groundless fears that they shall endanger the salvation of their own souls if they attend the sacrament, where men may eat and drink damnation unto themselves. But supreme love to God and a zeal according to knowledge, will banish such fears, and sweetly constrain them to do their duty, and leave the event with God.
5. Those who are the subjects of special grace, desire to grow in grace; and for that reason desire to join the church, that they may enjoy the best means of spiritual edification and growth in grace. They desire the sincere milk of the word, and the nourishment of divine ordinances, that they may grow thereby. All divine ordinances are designed and calculated to promote the spiritual benefit, and edification, and comfort, of the children of God. They have, therefore, always highly prized them, and endeavored to enjoy them in the house of God. David says, “ One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.” Again he says, “ The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that he planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and tourishing.” The subjects of special grace are commonly very desirous at first, and